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Animal welfare: animal-based indicators

Hi, my name is Franck and I am a scientist at EFSA, working in the area of animal health and welfare. Today I am going to talk to you about animal-based indicators. A very specific aspect of our work related to animal welfare. But before I do that I would just like to briefly explain how an organisation like EFSA that deals primarily with food safety has a role to play in animal welfare. Well, in fact the answer to this question is quite simple.

We know that the safety of our food chain can be indirectly affected by the welfare of animals.

This is because stress, injuries and poor welfare all together can lead to infectious diseases among animals, some of them being food-borne to consumers. One example of how animal welfare might affect the food safety is tail biting among pigs. This is a major welfare issue on pig farms and it is also a risk factor of increasing the frequency of abscesses and infections in carcasses. If you remember earlier I said I wanted to talk to you about animal-based indicators; what are they and why are they so important?

‘Animal-based indicators’ is a term used by scientists to describe the way in which the welfare of an animal is measured, but in fact it is a very basic concept and something we are probably all familiar with in our daily lives.

For example, when you measure your body temperature you do this in the knowledge that this is a good indication of fever. The same principle can also be applied by scientists when they assess the welfare of animals. The challenge, and this is where EFSA plays an important role, comes in finding the most effective indicator, or combination of indicators for what we are trying to measure. Now let’s go back to our example – tail biting.

Animal welfare: animal-based indicators

We know that this is an indicator of poor welfare, but it is not very specific because many different factors can lead to tail biting, making it difficult to tell exactly what is affecting the pig’s welfare. And so, in all fairness, it may reflect only part of the factors influencing the pig’s welfare. However, tail biting may become an effective indicator when it is combined with other indicators. Taken together they are likely to give a fair overall assessment of the welfare of the pig. This aspect of EFSA’s work reflects a shift in the way in which scientists also policymakers in Europe are considering animal welfare assessment.

It is a move away from a system that measures the environment in which the animal lives – such as access to water or food, or housing – towards a system that will measure how the animal itself will respond to the environment. It is hoped that this will lead to a more effective and efficient way of assessing animal welfare, whatever farming system is used.

EFSA’s advice in this area is designed to support the work of the European Commission and come soon after the launch of the EU animal welfare strategy 2012-2015..

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