Embracing Animal Welfare Strengthens Productive Sustainable Food Systems
Consumers are increasingly interested and concerned about the welfare and well-being of livestock and animals in the food and agriculture system. The animal agriculture community, made up of farmers and ranchers, veterinarians, nutritionists, meat processing companies and retailers, recognizes these concerns and is creating a more innovative and transparent food system. Enacting good animal welfare systems is a “triple win” and is good for livestock, producers and consumers.
The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) is an international intergovernmental organization that sets global standards for animal welfare. Standards are science-based and adopted by member country delegates annually. 6 In the United States and the European Union, livestock industries have developed science-based programs that are increasingly adopted by more of the agriculture community to ensure high standards of animal health and welfare throughout an animal’s life.
Industry commitments to animal welfare are tied to specific animal care program guidelines. Guided by scientists, veterinarians and animal welfare experts, these programs help farmers, ranchers and processors improve stewardship of livestock, ensuring that animals are raised in conditions that provide regular access to fresh water and food, proper handling, health care, and good animal husbandry. Industry guidelines refine these concepts by how they apply to specific animals, as well as creating measurable standards.
One example of such industry guidelines for pork production in the United States is through the Pork Quality Assurance Plus™ (PQA Plus™) program, which provides detailed practices for proper care to ensure that pigs are healthy and safe. The program addresses caretaker training, space allocation and animal handling, among other topics. Additional commitments by the pork industry include the We Care initiative which promotes responsible pork farming practices and helps consumers connect with pork farmers to learn more about production practices. Similar programs are in place for dairy, beef, chicken, turkey, veal and sheep.
In addition to the industry animal care guidelines, many farms participate in third-party animal welfare audits. The audits are performed to verify that farmers and ranchers are using best management practices to promote the health and well-being of the animals under their stewardship.