Animal health, a prerequisite for animal welfare
In the highly polarised and often emotional debate around animal welfare, there are a number of sectors developing concrete solutions to deliver on demands for higher welfare for farm animals. One such sector is the animal health industry.
With animal health recognised as being essential for animal welfare in the EU Regulation on Transmissible Animal Diseases, also known as the Animal Health Law, and with health indirectly referenced in the internationally recognised principles of animal welfare known as the ‘Five Freedoms’ – in the freedom from pain, injury and disease parameter – it is clear that without good health, Europe’s animals won’t experience a positive life before entering the food chain.
The basic but essential tools in the veterinary toolkit, therefore, play an important role in maintaining high standards of animal welfare. Vaccines and parasite protection provide the means to prevent disease and discomfort in both livestock and aquaculture. And when bacterial infections strike, antibiotics can treat disease and anti-inflammatories can relieve any painful symptoms. Increased use of diagnostic tools is also helping to ensure that the right diagnosis is given early on so that the appropriate treatment options can be given to quickly remedy illness and restore good welfare.
As science develops in the field of animal welfare, with many scientists and animal welfare academics now referencing the ‘Five Domains’ of animal welfare – similar to the freedoms with health as a parameter and an additional focus on the mental state – so too are animal healthcare offerings developing. In some countries, an increasing number of consumers wish to know that the food they consume has come from animals that have had a good life, and new animal health technologies developed over the past years are helping to ensure greater insights into animal care as well as greater traceability.
Today’s animal health monitoring tools are helping farmers to keep a closer eye on each and every animal. The use of sensors via ear tags or smart collars on the animals, or via video cameras and microphones in the barn can capture signs of ill health or discomfort, such as: irregular feed consumption; a high temperature; an abnormal movement or gait; or even respiratory abnormalities. Using algorithms, the data captured via the sensors send an alert to the farmer’s smartphone or computer programme so that appropriate care can be given. Sometimes this can facilitate the detection of an infection before the full onset of the illness, or it can help stop an issue from getting worse.
Ill-health can be the result of a complex combination of factors. Some are intrinsic, such as genetic makeup. Some are external, such as living space, food, or contact with wildlife. Some are environmental, including extreme weather pressures or the presence of air or water-borne diseases. The right conditions can of course help minimise the risk of disease, but they can never prevent it completely. This is why animal welfare requires training in good animal husbandry practices including biosecurity, and access to veterinary support and animal vaccines, medicines and other healthcare tools.
Farmers have a duty of care towards the animals they raise, making sure they are safe, well-fed, comfortable, not stressed and healthy. But we know this is not the only thing they have to manage, as farmers have growing demands also to protect biodiversity, restore soil health and decrease emissions, as well as to ensure a safe and secure food supply for the population, all while trying to balance production costs and make a living for their families. This is why the animal health industry is investing in such new technologies and expanding the toolkit for veterinarians, farmers and other animal guardians. With more connected health and welfare parameters, we can support more holistic animal management, greater traceability and better welfare overall.