We focus on animal care and welfare every day in Alberta but spring is especially important. It is the time when the industry unites to learn, debate and plan a road map for animal care and welfare in the province. The Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) conference highlights research, regulations, codes of practice, economics and societal expectations in regards to farm animal care, and students have the opportunity to present discussion posters. The April conference is well attended by those in all aspects of food animal production, processing, marketing, research and regulation.
AFAC has really drilled down to expand the industry knowledge base and has provided guidance in the area of animal welfare and care since 1993. They have been instrumental in engaging producers, the public and legislatures on the issue of animal care. It was livestock producers, those in the food animal business, (the editor ofAlberta Farmerwas a founding director) who started AFAC, and today the organization encompasses all four-legged food animals as well as poultry and egg production. The intent is to promote and advise on responsible, humane animal care.
Why should you care? First, animal welfare is defined as the quality of life of an animal. We have the opportunity through AFAC to be part of that definition, or we can allow for society to define quality of life on our behalf. Undoubtedly, there would be a difference in those definitions. By taking the first steps in educating both the public and the producer on humane practices, we defuse what can be at any time a potentially explosive situation that is highly damaging to the livestock industry. For example, the livestock help line and resource team is available through 1-800-506-2273. That resource team can advise as to how to proceed in the case of animal abuse, accident or neglect. In confidence, the producer is approached on his or her site, to evaluate the extent of the problem.
In some cases, education or guidance is the answer. In others, there may be professionals brought in to help with the case. When there is obvious distress that cannot be resolved, the authorities or the Alberta SPCA are contacted. At that point the whole situation becomes very public and media may be involved. By going through a process that evaluates the concern prior to media attention, the industry has the opportunity to proactively heal itself and foster positive societal support.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association defines animal welfare as a human responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention, responsible care, humane handling and where necessary, humane euthanasia.
OIE has developed a global definition of animal welfare that looks at the state of the animal inclusive of slaughter. The OIE statement reads: “Animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour and is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter/killing. Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal received is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment.”
Livestock producers need to know the definition of animal welfare because it is being proposed as a component of international trade agreements. Animal care as defined through animal welfare is currently the No. 1 concern for consumers. The consuming public interest has shifted from issues like the environment and now, especially through social media, can make a direct connection to the living animal. They need assurance that livestock, including those in the feather industry, do not suffer. With such a societal shift and an expectation on food production, the importance of organizations such as AFAC becomes even more apparent. Leading-edge research and continuous dialogue is necessary so that producers are part of the definition of animal welfare and care and have an engagement in any regulatory changes. Livestock is entrusted to our care and society knows this. Our responsibility is as much to them as it is to our industry and the animals for which we care.
BrendaSchoeppisamarketanalystandtheownerandauthorofBeeflink,anationalbeefcattlemarketnewsletter.Aprofessionalspeakerandindustrymarketandresearchconsultant,sheranchesnearRimbey,Alberta. [email protected]
Animalcareasdefined throughanimal welfareiscurrently theNo.1concernfor consumers.