Considering the wider determinants of welfare – a comprehensive approach to the welfare of livestock during transport

Posted on February 12, 2019 by John Fishwick

In its recently updated position on the welfare of livestock during transport, BVA recognises that any movement of animals will have a potential impact on their health and welfare. Whatever the type and scale of movement, the welfare of animals must be prioritised with the aim of reducing the impact of the movement as far as is reasonably possible. Wherever possible, and paying due regard to scientific evidence regarding the relationship between journey times and welfare outcomes, animals to be slaughtered for food should be slaughtered as close to the point of production as possible.

However, as calls for a ban on live export increase, it is important to recognise that distance, or indeed length of journey, are not the only influencers of the health and welfare outcomes of animals that are being transported. Ultimately, in order to be effective in its aims, any well-intentioned moves by Government to improve animal welfare should recognise that the wider determinants of welfare associated with transporting animals are complex and there are multiple factors that must be considered. Put simply, a ban on live exports may not represent a panacea for all aspects of animal welfare during transport.

But what do ‘wider determinants of welfare’ really mean?

It’s probably easiest to think of the ‘wider determinants of welfare’ as the each of the differing parts or stages of a journey that may impact on an animal’s welfare. These span the whole process of transporting animals, from transport time/journey length, driver skill and competence to handling, loading and unloading and end destination standards. In its position on the welfare of livestock during transport, BVA highlights 7 areas that should be holistically considered when thinking on how to improve animal welfare during transport.

  • Transport time and distance from point of production
  • Transport design, condition and stocking density
  • Driver skill, competence and planning
  • Watering, feeding intervals and rest periods
  • Monitoring of health and welfare
  • End destination standards
  • Exporting for non-stun slaughter

To read more about these areas and specific considerations in more detail, read the BVA position on the welfare of livestock in full.

A complex area that requires complex consideration

With these complex, and sometimes conflicting, factors in mind, it’s easy to see how it can be difficult to meet the 5 welfare needs of animals during transport (suitable environment; a suitable diet; housed with or apart from other animals; protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease; exhibiting normal behaviour patterns). So, how can improvements be made?

To build on the existing legislation that exists to safeguard the health and welfare of livestock during transport, BVA supports a welfare outcomes approach. Looking at the welfare outcomes of animals in the context of transportation would provide a practical and scientifically informed method of assessment that aims to provide a more objective, accurate and direct picture of animal welfare. This means that any improvements to legislation would be evidence-based and contribute to informed considerations of the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of transport and journeys. Overall, this approach would assist producers, policy makers and consumers to consider how well a method of transport, or journey route, is able to holistically meets all of an animal’s health and welfare needs.

Such an emotive and complex area necessitates complex and often conflicting considerations. It’s for this exact reason that a comprehensive view of animal welfare during transport, based on evidence and welfare outcomes science, must underpin any further considerations the Government makes to safeguard animal health and welfare.

John Fishwick

Written by John Fishwick

BVA President from September 2017 to September 2018

John is senior lecturer in Dairy Herd Medicine and former head of the Department of Production and Population Health at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). He is a former President of the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA). Prior to this he worked in mixed practice and he was once head veterinarian to the world’s largest fully integrated dairy company, farming over 25,000 high producing dairy cows in Saudi Arabia.