Cattle welfare – worsening standards or changing expectations?

Speaker: Nick Bell

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Cattle welfare – worsening standards or changing expectations?


In the last 12 months, the UK dairy industry has faced a barrage of criticism over animal welfare standards from vegan and animal rights activist groups. This has highlighted new areas of concern to the main welfare issues such as lameness and mastitis, which are well described within the scientific literature and outlined in expert opinion reports by FAWC and EFSA. Consequently, the dairy industry faces some new and important perception challenges relating to the ethics of modern farming practices. This has exposed a fundamental disconnect between the consumer and the dairy producer, and perhaps dairy advisors. Furthermore, the power of the media and the modern phenomenon of social media has demonstrated how vulnerable the dairy industry is to activist campaigns. This attention will only continue to grow and carry more influence unless the industry is prepared to respond. Engagement of the public with educational exercises such as Open Farm Sunday may have a role in reassuring consumers but examples of informing the consumer about high welfare systems in other industries shows this takes too long and rarely has equivalent impact to emotive media investigations. The underlying issues are complex and relate to changing societal cultures, which require a new approach by producer groups. The need to reassure the consumer about wider societal concerns are greater than ever. Enormous progress has been made with some endemic conditions like lameness and mastitis, albeit with further progress needed, and how these have been addressed will be examined. More fundamental ethical issues to do with system and economics will be touched upon. Ultimately, we need to develop and evolve a set of welfare standards well in excess of the minimum legislative requirements and adopt modern methods of communication, public engagement and marketing in order to protect businesses and therefore investment in higher welfare.

Learning outcomes

  1. Identifying the new priorities for animal welfare standards, revealed by a growing, active group but important stakeholder group
  2. Identify positive steps which can address specific welfare concerns, proactively (preventative) and in response to real and tangible or perception-based welfare issues
  3. Evaluating which advisory approach is required to remove barriers to improving welfare
  4. Develop long-term strategies which will allow profitable dairy production to continue with high standards
  5. Evaluate methods for engaging positively with the consumer and wider societal stakeholders in approaches taken to improve welfare standards