Report Synopsis

Farmer Led Animal Welfare; An Opportunity for the Irish Livestock Industry

Colm O'Leary

The purpose of this report is to relate my experience of animal welfare across various countries and to assess international research in animal welfare. My hope and recommendation is that farmers seize the opportunity presented by improving animal welfare.

Livestock production is an unrivalled technology in its ability to adapt and help meet challenges such as food insecurity, climate change, and desertification. The use of this technology must be defended. However, the individual experiences of the animals used must be considered. Modern values demand that these animals are treated in a compassionate and humane manner. In order to protect our social licence and way of life, livestock farmers, must more closely align our production systems with consumer values.

This report has been compiled based on my Nuffield study tour to the UK, Netherlands, Czechia, Ukraine, USA, Canada, Kenya, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Information was collected from a broad variety of industry stakeholders.

“Farmer led animal welfare” is not a feature of commodity production systems. Many farm leaders have surrendered the term “welfare” to the animal rights lobby. Welfare regulations are being driven by political pressure in response to video exposés and subsequent public outcry. It was disheartening to meet stakeholders who saw increased regulations only as an increased cost. The obvious benefits to animals were either forgotten, dismissed or ignored.

The extreme ideology of veganism represents approximately 2% of the population. This group are against improving animal welfare standards as they see the use of animals in any way as fundamentally unethical. There is no point at which the quality of care is high enough that vegans ever believe it is acceptable to use an animal for human profit or pleasure.

A more significant portion (7%) of the marketplace consists of the rising trend of “Flexitarianism”. These are people who seek to cut down on meat and dairy consumption for health, environmental and welfare concerns. These consumers will continue to choose meat and dairy but are likely to seek out the highest quality and those practices that allay their ethical and health concerns.

This is where the opportunity lies for the Irish livestock industry. Distinguishing our products as the best in terms of health, environment and welfare will allow us to capitalise on this segment of the market which will choose premium products. Aligning our production systems with these core values will protect both our publics’ support and our consumers’ trust. There is previous evidence to support the health claims of grass fed animal products. Our pasture based systems also have been shown to be more beneficial to the environment in terms of biodiversity and carbon emissions. This report focuses solely on animal welfare.

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