Animal welfare for livestock
Animal welfare literally means “welfare of animals.” The term “animal welfare” is often heard in society now. However, the thought of animal welfare is usually connected to only pets such as dogs and cats at home and animals displayed in the zoo, and consideration for livestock, including cattle, swine, and chickens, is often lacking.
“Livestock” refers to mammals and birds that are raised and managed for industrial use. Cattle, swine, and chickens are typical examples. We use products that come from these animals such as meat, milk, and eggs. In recent years, since the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, livestock welfare has come into the spotlight. When discussing animal welfare, there are five “freedoms” to focus on as guideposts. These are: (1) freedom from hunger, thirst, and nutritional insufficiency; (2) freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; (3) freedom from pain, injury, and disease; (4) freedom to act normally; and (5) freedom from fear and distress.
The European Union is under a movement to completely ban all farming methods that restrict “the freedom to act normally,” such as caging hens and stalling gestating sows. On the other hand, these methods are still in common use in Japan. However, it is not that livestock welfare is neglected in Japan. Animals are kept under good farming management with care from various perspectives based on the Act on Welfare and Management of Animals, in order to create a comfortable rearing environment.
Differences in animal welfare from different standpoints
When it comes to animal welfare, we tend to think of animals as something adorable or pitiful. But if we make a judgment on this issue with such an emotional sense, we may end up losing track of the essence of things. Particularly, it is apparent that the animal welfare of livestock is not just a simple question that can be answered by “yes” or “no,” considering different standpoints of people who are involved in the industry. For instance, it is extremely difficult for all producers, dealers, consumers, and governments to have similar thoughts.
For example, consumers would be happier if they can purchase livestock products, which are everyday ingredients, at lower prices. Especially in these times when the prices of livestock products have been soaring because of the situation in Ukraine and exchange rate change, and creating a social issue. When consumers seek inexpensive livestock products, producers respond by implementing efficient and productivity-focused farming management to reduce costs as much as possible, making it difficult to determine whether to make significant changes to existing rearing systems. If the prices of livestock products increase in the future because of a drastic change in the existing farming system, will consumers be able to accept such a thing?
Also, there are differences in food culture and food safety awareness between Japan and other countries, therefore, they cannot always share the same methods. For example, Japanese eat raw eggs, but this is out of the question in Europe and the U.S. This is because, in Japan, raw eggs are treated under thorough hygiene controls on the much higher level than other countries, including cleansing, disinfecting, and packing so that they can be consumed uncooked.
Furthermore, how to evaluate animal welfare is an important point. For instance, pasturing pigs seems to be a desirable farming style as pigs are kept loose, considering animal welfare. However, pigs raised in such environments are more vulnerable to diseases, and the piglets have a significantly higher mortality rate than those raised on an ordinary hog farm. When considering animal welfare, we should make judgments objectively and scientifically based on multiple guideposts, instead of evaluating only one aspect of the issue.
We will not be able to have essential discussions unless we multi-directionally examine every single matter.
Validation using scientific approaches and consumer awareness is crucial
In the example above, we cannot simply answer whether pasturing pigs is harmful for them. Being raised in an environment where pigs can freely move around may be comfortable for them. However, what is important here is to clarify it objectively and scientifically without expressing it in the emotional word “comfortable” so that other people can fairly comprehend. That is why I use data science.
Livestock production involves a variety of data such as records of productivity and economic efficiency, farming management information, disease and treatment records, and farming environment information. These data will be quantified by means of statistical analysis and machine learning using AI, and further examined by epidemiological analysis. This will enable us to gain useful knowledge on farming management and epidemic prevention systems that improve livestock productivity and safety.
For example, it is true that pastured pigs are susceptible to disease, but it does not mean that pigs should not be pastured. It is important for producers to have knowledge about the disease and to have a solid epidemic prevention system. Producers may be able to improve productivity and safety by quantifying the types of risks of different farming environments, understanding them objectively and scientifically, and recognizing them properly. However, this type of farming may be more costly and result in higher prices of meat. In such a case, consumer awareness will also become important.
The price of a product is determined by supply and demand. Even though producers produce livestock products that emphasize animal welfare, if the livestock products are not purchased by consumers because the prices are high, they will not be able to carry on with their farming style. In order to propel animal welfare, the purchase behavior of consumers is important as well as their knowledge. When you buy livestock products, considering and paying attention to not only their prices but also the farming method will be the first step to understanding animal welfare.
As discussed so far, there have not been constructive discussions about livestock welfare because it is not a question that can be answered simply by “yes” or “no” and because there are many different thoughts on animal welfare depending on the standpoint. However, livestock welfare is attracting worldwide attention. In order to promote an environment in which we can have discussions taking into account the situation and culture of Japan, it will be important for us as consumers to be interested in animal welfare and to be aware of it in our everyday lives and shopping.
* The information contained herein is current as of September 2022.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.
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