#ChooseAssured - voting for animal welfare at checkouts

Posted on July 20, 2018 by Sean Wensley

Farm assuranceThere’s a saying that our meals give us three votes every day. Each time we exchange our money for food, we give our clearest possible support for its desirability and provenance: “This is something I want; I am happy with the way it has been produced and I am directly funding you to continue.”

Recognising ourselves as influential citizens rather than passive consumers can change the future of our food system.

Food goals

There are lots of things we want from our food – safety, accessibility, affordability, high animal and producer wellbeing, low greenhouse gas emissions and minimal antimicrobial resistance risk, to name a few. In deciding how we use our food votes, we have personal and professional opportunities and responsibilities; as vets and vet nurses an opportunity to support fair trade for producers, for example, but a professional responsibility to support and promote high animal welfare and antimicrobial stewardship because of our professions’ fundamental purpose and society’s expectation of us.

In the case of animal-derived foods, most citizens want farmed animals to have had a good life and a humane death, with a growing number seeking these assurances from brands and retailers. It’s no secret, and nor should it be, that some traditional management, breeding and husbandry practices compromise animal welfare, for example through close confinement or by causing pain.

New approaches are continually evolving, but they need funding support, and the veterinary and veterinary nursing professions have clear roles in informing society about these ethical costs and helping stimulate market and political support for sustained improvements.

Words to action - #ChooseAssured infographic

BVA’s Animal Welfare Strategy, Vets Speaking Up For Animal Welfare , says that BVA will identify priority animal welfare problems with species-specialist veterinary associations; increase consumer (citizen) awareness of assurance schemes that address these problems; and assist BVA members to understand different farm assurance schemes and to signpost the public towards those that promote higher animal welfare.

BVA’s new farm assurance infographic, launched as part of our #ChooseAssured campaign, is a practical outcome of these actions. It takes some of society’s priority issues, including non-stun slaughter, cages for laying hens, farrowing crates for pigs and responsible use of antimicrobials, and lays out how these are addressed by seven of the UK’s most widely recognised assurance schemes. It makes clear that the list is not exhaustive – BVA Council and the specialist divisions have separately agreed 61 farm animal welfare problems that require veterinary positions and advocacy – but it highlights the general importance of choosing assured products to advance standards, signposting to schemes that address common concerns and directing to the schemes’ websites to learn more.

Vets and vet nurses leading animal welfare improvements

BVA’s Animal Welfare Strategy divides the profession’s opportunities to advocate for animals’ best interests into individual (vet/vet nurse to client), community (e.g. veterinary practices) and national (associations) levels, and each can be used to promote #ChooseAssured and the infographic. As individuals, we can be thoughtful about our own purchases and use the infographic to help our clients and friends. We can display it in practices – companion and other practices alike - on the staff-room fridge and in waiting rooms.

And BVA and other associations can promote it through press releases, to help ensure the quality of our farmed animals’ lives and deaths are kept in mind during, for example, barbecue season and at Christmas. The personal choices that follow have the added benefit of sending market signals to legislators and retailers; demonstrated customer support can pave the way for  policy change, such as this month’s commitment from Co-op that all of its own-brand pork products will be from outdoor-bred pigs on RSPCA Assured farms. Concurrently, BVA will continue to lobby for farm animal health and welfare to receive public funding post-Brexit, for example through a Welfare Stewardship Scheme, to supplement the market-led approach.

Valuing food

With the rise of vegetarianism and veganism, some have called for vets to deliver the “truth” on farming. It’s not our professional responsibility to defend or promote industries, but we have both opportunity and responsibility to advocate that animal-derived foods, when eaten, should be valued, and that our informed choices can improve the wellbeing of both animals and producers.

As “less and better” is advanced as a sustainable and affordable approach to meat and dairy consumption, so BVA’s infographic can help inform how the veterinary profession might interpret “better”. Whether it is to support assured free-farrowing systems over farrowing crates, or choosing meat from animals that have been stunned before slaughter, as vets and vet nurses we should be engaged with farm animal welfare, influence others to be and use our daily votes to Choose Assured.

Sean Wensley

Written by Sean Wensley

BVA President from September 2015 to September 2016

Sean is Senior Veterinary Surgeon for Communication and Education at PDSA, based in Northern Ireland. He is also an Honorary Lecturer in animal welfare at the University of Nottingham.