Report Synopsis

Well and Fair: Investigating dairy welfare programs around the world

Lucy Collins

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less” - General Eric Shinseki.

As one of the few developed countries without a dairy welfare assurance system, an effective program would contribute to maintaining and enhancing Australia's international reputation as a responsible dairy producer. It would align with global trends and expectations for animal welfare, and potentially facilitate market access to countries with more stringent welfare requirements (or requiring equivalency of assurance scheme). Given current European (EU) trade negotiations – at the time of writing – coupled with a large review and update of EU’s animal welfare strategy, this may only increase in relevance. And if the government isn’t going to do it, perhaps industry should.

The need for standardization of the welfare appraisals required for ongoing market access in the northern hemisphere has led to the development and widespread adoption of numerous national welfare assurance programs. While the intent is to ensure cow welfare standards are being upheld and altruistically improved; the process of development, implementation, adoption, and review of programs varies widely.

A coordinated national conversation around the dairy industry’s welfare claims may soon be warranted, or indeed demanded. At some stage the Australian dairy industry will come under scrutiny or increased pressure for more robust assurance. It is an unfortunate truth that sometimes it takes an exposé to push an industry to reactively commit to an assurance program or improve transparency. Similarly, other animal production industries can provide the dairy industry with examples where retailers caught producers by surprise, requiring changes to on-farm animal management systems without prior consultation in response to consumer demands.

It is time the Australian dairy industry got real about welfare and had a whole of supply chain conversation about aspirations for the future. While there are some mandatory and some voluntary animal welfare measures already in place, the implementation of a dedicated program would provide a more systematic and structured approach to assessing cow welfare and offer farmers the ability to benchmark. By establishing clear standards, promoting participation and monitoring outcomes, industry has the potential to contribute to the improved welfare of dairy cows.

The features of successful models, potential barriers to implementation, threats associated with complacency, and opportunities for meaningful change are outlined and explored in this report. 

 

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