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Consumers' role in improving animal welfare

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The BVA Animal Welfare Foundation (BVA AWF) held its annual discussion forum in London on May 16. Topics discussed included ethical consumerism, organic farming, stunning at slaughter and reptile welfare. Catherine Jacob reports

‘MANY of our farming systems and strains of animals we use, although operated with compassion and cared for with compassion, are intrinsically incapable of achieving an acceptable quality of life [for the animals involved]’. So said Sean Wensley, senior veterinary surgeon for communication and education at the PDSA. Dairy cows, for example, repeatedly suffered from health problems such as lameness and mastitis, which, he said, could be attributed to the ‘continuing long-term genetic selection for higher and higher milk yields’.

Mr Wensley said he was giving his presentation as a consumer, and one who was comfortable consuming animal-derived products provided the animals had had a good quality of life and a humane death. He noted that by ‘good quality of life’ he did not mean a ‘life of luxury’, but one in which the animals were not experiencing pain, frustration or distress arising from the systems they were kept in, procedures they were routinely subjected to, or clinical disease.

However, he believed that many farm animals did not have such a quality of life, and gave some examples of specific welfare problems in farmed animals. Broiler chickens, he said, suffered from high levels of lameness, overcrowding and an inability to express normal behaviour. The parent birds were predictably faster growing, but in order for them to stay fertile they were often food-deprived. Large numbers of finishing pigs were kept in barren indoor systems, leading to social stress and tail biting. In sheep, lameness continued to be a particular problem.

Looking at some of the ways in which animal welfare could be improved, Mr Wensley noted that farmers …

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