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Farm animal welfare matters to all vets
  1. Adele Waters

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No-one wants to spend any longer in a supermarket than they have to so wouldn’t it be great if there was a quick way to check that any animal-based products you buy meet high animal welfare standards?

Today the BVA launches a farm animal welfare infographic to help you do just that.

Presented as a grid, it sets out all the BVA’s welfare priorities for farm animals, for example that animals are stunned before they are slaughtered, and then checks each of them against the standards of the UK’s seven most widely recognised assurance schemes (see page 80-81).

The aim is to provide you with a simple resource to answer questions from clients or to share information with your staff, family and friends about animal welfare-friendly approaches to buying food.

The infographic isn’t comprehensive – it doesn’t address all 61 welfare issues affecting farm animals that have been identified by the association as requiring action. But it is a very useful shorthand for highlighting the need to choose assured products to advance welfare standards. Indeed, the association has launched it as part of a #ChooseAssured campaign.

And the campaign is not solely aimed at farm vets – the thinking is that since all vets are interested in animal welfare and are often asked about it, this should be of interest and use across the whole profession.

Consumers are more interested in farm animal welfare than they have ever been

Consumers are certainly increasingly interested in farm animal welfare – indications are that they are more interested than they have ever been, and this is likely to continue. Analysis published last month by the trends forecaster IGD predicted that food shoppers of the future will be even more socially conscious as well as interested in optimising their time, health and individual choice.

It isn’t surprising, therefore, that animal welfare is recognised as a strategic opportunity – and risk – for global food companies. Since 2012, the performance of the largest corporates (in terms of farm animal welfare management, policy commitment, performance and disclosure) has been measured and published in a league table.

The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare enables investors, companies, non-government organisations and other stakeholders to understand and drive improvements in the welfare of animals reared for food. Its last report ranked the UK retailers Co-op, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose at the top level.

Companies are also tracked year-on-year so those striving to make improvements also get credit. Overall the benchmark survey has found that every year, companies increase the attention they pay to farm animal welfare and this is driven primarily by customers, although media interest and investor pressure are also significant drivers.

There is growing competition to be seen as leading on this agenda, with good results for animal welfare. Just take this month’s commitment from Co-op that all of its own-brand pork products will now be from outdoor-bred pigs on RSPCA assured farms.

In the UK, vets are well placed to steer this movement for three reasons.

First, because farm assurance schemes rely on veterinary knowledge and expertise in the development and review of standards, and the provision of on-farm assessments of animal health and welfare for accreditation.

Second, because vets are trusted by the public. An omnibus survey three years ago found that vets were among the most trusted professionals, with 94 per cent of the British public trusting them generally or completely.

And finally, because vets are well placed to deliver animal welfare information and advice and signpost the public to schemes that promote higher animal health and welfare. The infographic will make that job easier and so reinforce vets’ standing as advocates of animal welfare and leaders in this field.

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