A hands-on approach to animal welfare

Animal welfare is best improved by letting the experts do their jobs and fairly remunerating their efforts, argues Marlene Mortler.
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By Marlene Mortler

Marlene Mortler (DE, EPP) is a vice-chair of Parliament’s Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport Committee (ANIT)

02 Jul 2021

Over the years, many steps have been taken to improve animal welfare. I vividly remember how livestock housing such as stables and pens used to look when I was a child.

The difference compared to today’s’ standards is incredible. A potential next step is the inclusion of digital solutions such as artificial intelligence.

Many systems nowadays claim to be able to cover most traditional farmers’ tasks, be it milking dairy cows, feeding chickens or recognising abnormal behaviour in pigs through cameras in their pens or through cell phone applications.

Against a backdrop of increasing bureaucracy, delegating responsibilities to a machine seems like an ideal solution.

In a recent hearing in the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) committee on animal production, MEPs were told that farmers now spend less and less time on animal care. That trend does not seem likely to end anytime soon.

Although some tasks can easily be undertaken by computers, many cannot. Properly caring for animals is one of them.

“Digital solutions should be sensible additions to the care of animals. They cannot, and should not, replace farmers themselves though”

The professional care of animals is one of the key factors of animal welfare. Digital solutions should be sensible additions to the care of animals. They cannot, and should not, replace farmers themselves though. Experience and knowledge are key factors in animal welfare. Another important aspect to consider is current research.

As I mentioned, improvements in stables and pens have come a long way. Findings from years of research and innovation have gradually been incorporated into today’s livestock housing architecture and care routines. Those ideas and findings have improved animal husbandry considerably.

Animal husbandry experts have to keep up with current research. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unlikely engine for positive developments. For example, the virus spread rapidly in Germany in early 2020.

As a result, one of the largest education networks had to move their seminars and events online and completely redo their planning. Thanks to new digital solutions, taking part in these expert training sessions has never been easier.

Combined with lower travel costs, it also became far less expensive. As a result, those participating are now much more diverse and the range of seminars is broadening. Farmers, students and veterinarians alike take part in the events and have the opportunity to not only learn from the trainers, but also from each other.

They can suggest topics for upcoming seminars and shape the nature of their training courses.

“All of the efforts that farmers undertake to improve animal welfare and employee education need to be recognised and rewarded”

All of the efforts that farmers undertake to improve animal welfare and employee education need to be recognised and rewarded. Consumer awareness has risen considerably over the years and so has the expertise of farmers.

Yet in many cases, farmers still do not get a fair price for their products. Which incentives can we offer consumers to guarantee fair prices for sustainably manufactured products that adhere to the highest animal husbandry standards in the world? Should we prioritise small-scale structures and work on rebuilding an infrastructure of small and local slaughterhouses?

Should we shorten transport times and give farmers and consumers both more insights into the processes that take place after the animals leave their respective farms? Should we allow on-farm slaughter to lessen the stress animals experience during transport?

In Germany, the ten largest slaughterhouses process roughly 80 percent of animals. Often, this means long transport times and less transparency for producers and consumers. In the end, appreciation and fair remuneration go a long way in helping the transition to a system that is more oriented towards animal welfare.

It could honour and strengthen the regional production and distribution of agricultural products.

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