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Explain (article two)
seek to give animals
THEFOCUS IN animal welfare is shifting from
solving problems to giving animals ‘a good life’.
Experts have told an RSPCA seminar in Canberra
their understanding of what makes animals happy, and
how that can be measured, is improving all the time.
And they say that an animal’s happiness, like good
nutrition, will eventually be considered an essential part
of good livestock management.
David Mellor is a director of the Animal Welfare Science
and Bioethics Centre at New Zealand’s Massey University.
He’s worked in welfare field for decades on both sides of
the Tasman and the UK.
He says many of the livestock welfare issues that were
huge problems decades ago have already been solved, as
scientists and farmers developed a better understanding
of what animals need to keep them healthy and safe, and
that’s bringing about an evolution in what ‘good welfare’
Increasingly, it’s an animal’s happiness that’s the issue:
how to give livestock positive life experiences, like chances
to explore, forage and interact.
Professor Mellor acknowledges that many farmers will
hear that and be worried about the prospect of these
emerging concepts of welfare being forced onto their
But he says farmers shouldn’t panic; that this is a
process of evolution, not revolution, and one in which
farmers will be closely involved, just as they were in
solving problems with poor animal nutrition, and
suffering through disease, that were significant issues for
livestock industries in previous decades.
Professor Mellor says giving animals happier lives
needn’t necessarily be a costly exercise, and could involve
things like improving the foraging experience for
livestock, by varying the type of feed and the way animals
are fed. Similarly, giving social animals the opportunity to
interact with each other, and young animals the
opportunity to play, where appropriate, could also come to
form part of good welfare management over time.
While it’s the scientific community’s understanding
of the happiness of animals that’s driving this shift
in thinking, it’s clear that consumers are also
increasingly concerned that farm animals should live
actively happy lives.
James Yeates, the chief veterinary officer for the RSPCA
in Britain, believes happy animals shouldn’t make
livestock production unaffordable, and says there’s
evidence to show that happy animals can have production
benefits for farmers.
“Of course, especially in difficult times, farmers are
concerned about the bottom line, they’ve got to make sure
that the farm is sustainable,” he said.
“But very few farmers that I’ve ever met are concerned
only about the bottom line; there’s the financial bottom
line, but it’s also about having a viable, flourishing farm,
with a successful herd and part of the rural fabric, and the
happiness of animals can very much form part of that.”
Just as a perfect life is usually not possible for
humans, Dr Yeates says it’s probably impossible to
reduce animal suffering to zero, but it’s about achieving
an acceptable balance.
“ Veterinary treatment is an obvious example: you’re
going to cause some pain, but you’re hoping it provides
“It’s absolutely not about reducing suffering to zero. It’s
about striking that balance, as one idea, and then a
separate idea is about minimising suffering.
“So, for example, if you do transport animals, making
sure that one does it with the minimum of suffering.”
Dr Yeates acknowledges that selling that balance to a
consumer can be difficult, but he says an emphasis on
providing a happy life for animals would give livestock
industries an opportunity to say, ‘look, what we’re doing
here is a win-win’.
“ The animals have an enjoyable, happy life, the farmers
are an important part of the rural community, and the
consumers get to eat meat that they enjoy.
“I think there is something there [to communicate to
consumers], we have to simplify it and make sure it’s a
key message, but I think it’s a much more positive
message than saying ‘we’ve minimised the harms as
much as we can’.”
By Anna Vidot
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