Costs and Benefits of Improving Farm Animal Welfare

  • It is widely recognised that the EU has some of the world’s highest animal welfare standards, which include general requirements on the rearing, transport and slaughter of farm animals and specific requirements for certain species.
  • According to The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), “an animal is in a good state of welfare, if it is healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to express innate [natural] behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear and distress.”

The safety of what us, the consumers eat, and of the food chain are directly connected to the welfare of animals, particularly those farmed for food production, due to the close links between animal welfare and health and food-borne diseases.

Animal welfare domains can be divided in nutrition, environment, health, behavior, and they are largely dependent on how the welfare is managed by humans.

Stress factors and poor welfare, such as thermal stress, can lead to increased susceptibility to transmissible diseases among animals. This can pose risks to consumers, for example through common food-borne infections such as Salmonella.

It is not only important to sustain safety of what we consume, but good animal welfare practices reduce unnecessary suffering for the animals and make animals healthier.

There could be some perception that costs related to improve animal welfare could be significant and could be of financial burden. However, some of the costs are one-time costs associated with changing infrastructure and switching practices, some are ongoing operational costs, and some are costs to which all businesses in an industry must contribute indirectly.

Are costs a concern??

One-time costs associated with improving farm animal welfare can be significant, especially if major changes to infrastructure and adoption of technology (e.g animal monitoring) are required.

For instance, when the Australian pork industry chose to voluntarily phase out sow stalls by 2017, the reconfiguration of infrastructure to accommodate group housing and manage aggression of pregnant sows in pork production facilities was estimated to cost the industry AUD 50–95 million (Euro 35–66 million).

However, there were examples which showed a significant ROI. It was a decision of some cattle feedlots to install shade infrastructure to reduce the intensity of the heat load experienced by the cattle. In 2011, Sullivan et al. found that cost of shade cloth plus structural support and fittings was AUD 59.75 (EUR 42) for 2.0 m2 of shade per animal and AUD 69.74 (Euro 49) for 4.7 m2 of shade per animal. On the basis of these figures, a technical services officer from the Australian beef industry compared the benefit of improvements to feed intake and carcass weight relative to cost of installing shades in feedlots. He determined that feeding cattle under shade over summer would result in at least a AUD 20/head (EUR 14/head) increase in profit, not taking into account any heat-induced mortality or morbidity.

Apart from infrastructure costs, changes in practice to improve farm animal welfare often require additional training of personnel.

For instance, the use of cognitive behavioural training, which involves targeting key attitudes and behaviour of stockspeople, has been found to reduce fear and increase productivity in dairy cattle and pigs.

Given that the costs associated with changes in infrastructure and staff training can be significant, sustainable access to capital is an important consideration in improving farm animal welfare.

Even after changes to infrastructure have been made and staff have been trained, there may be ongoing costs associated with improvements to farm animal welfare.

It is therefore important to consider the tradeoffs and the potential benefits resulting from improving the animal welfare in the long term.

Now your turn: what are your concerns for the animal welfare in your farm?

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