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Expert addresses challenges in animal welfare

Limitations of Five Freedoms and pain management among topics discussed.

Animal welfare is not the same as animal rights, Ed Pajor, professor of animal welfare at the University of Calgary in Alberta, explained while speaking at the inaugural Pig Welfare Symposium this week in Des Moines, Iowa, where pork industry stakeholders discussed numerous topics surrounding the issue of animal welfare.

“Animal welfare deals with the state of the animal. We don’t measure animal welfare; we assess it,” he said, adding that it is a concept that requires the assessment of numerous components.

Animal welfare means how the animal copes with the conditions in which it lives, he further explained.

“Good animal welfare requires disease prevention, veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter,” Pajor said.

However, he said animal welfare does not mean providing food or shelter or the right type of flooring for the animals.

“You can provide the best flooring in the world that somebody has sold you, but if the animal walks through the facility, slips and falls, you have an animal welfare problem because of what the animal is experiencing. So, we need to make sure that, in our discussions around animal welfare, we focus on what the animal experiences,” Pajor explained.

Additionally, he pointed out that animal welfare is different from other scientific concepts, because it involves values and ethics. “We have to be very careful in terms of understanding that science has certain limitations. Telling us what we ought to do is not what science does,” Pajor said.

Science deals with facts, he added.

Pajor specifically addressed the Five Freedoms, which are found in most animal welfare standards and codes around the world today and also have become integral to animal welfare commitments made by food companies.

“It is extremely effective, and it is well recognized. However, there are limitations to the Five Freedoms," Pajor noted. "We need to take a critical analysis of them and take a good, hard look at them and say: Are they actually doing what they are supposed to be doing? Are we misusing them? Is it limiting the depth of our thinking around the issues? I think that’s a bit of a crutch to use.”

Some of the Five Freedoms aren’t even possible, like the idea that an entity can actually be free from fear and stress or the freedom to perform natural behavior, he said, pointing out that "fear is a natural behavior, isn’t it? Stress happens every day, doesn’t it? It’s the amount of stress, and when stress becomes distress, that’s the issue. So, there are challenges within it.”

Pajor referenced a newer animal welfare assessment tool called the Five Domains model of animal welfare, which covers all aspects of animal welfare, including nutrition, health, behavior, environment and the animal’s mental state, both negative and positive. The model was developed by Dr. David Mellor from the Animal Welfare Science & Bioethics Centre at Massey University in New Zealand as the successor model to the Five Freedoms due to “new scientific knowledge and understanding of animal welfare.”

Pajor also discussed the topic of pain management in depth, saying, “There are practices that cause pain, and we do them on a regular basis on farms: tail docking, teeth clipping, castration, ear tagging, ear notching. We can all have a discussion about how much pain, how serious it is, how long it lasts, but there is no discussion anymore about whether pain is experienced.”

While some consumers may not be able to get their heads around the topic of group housing, pain is very easy to understand, Pajor explained.

“We have survey after survey, study after study and country after country talking about the importance of animal pain. We need to figure out a way to deal with the issue of animal pain effectively,” he said.

Currently, the best anyone can agree on is post-operative pain management, Pajor said. “We all know that castration is an issue when you cut the spermatic cord, but that’s pre-op; that’s before you give them any medication,” he noted.

The North American industries have to start thinking about potential solutions, Pajor emphasized, adding, “It’s too easy to be criticized for not dealing with this issue.”

Enough is known already to take action of some sort, he said, suggesting that the industry “improve it as we go along, just like we do with everything else.”

Pajor did take a moment to recognize the efforts and progress the pork industry has made thus far. “This industry receives a lot of pressure from changes that occur elsewhere, but the pork industry should pride itself on the amount of effort and dollars it has put towards actually carrying out animal welfare research. It is essential that those types of programs remain in place.”

As far as where the world is going in terms of animal welfare, Pajor said it’s getting more complex.

“The whole issue of sustainable agriculture is an issue that animal welfare has now become a part of. It’s unclear exactly what role animal welfare has and how it works into sustainability,” he said.

Nonetheless, Pajor suggested that animal welfare will be brought under the sustainability umbrella.

Pajor referred to a relatively new research platform that is working its way into university curricula called the One Health Platform, which entails “taking a multidisciplinary approach and working nationally, globally and locally to obtain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.”

The One Health platform focuses mainly on health, but there is also an overlap program called One Welfare that emphasizes animal welfare. “It has huge implications, I think, on how we pose and address certain questions or the directions we are going to be asked to go” Pajor said, adding that the complex platforms being developed about sustainability like One Health and One Welfare will affect research and outreach in the future.

To conclude, Pajor posed the question: “Why animal welfare?”

He suggested that it's “because animal welfare matters, and it’s a huge social shift. Animals matter in society more than they ever have before.”

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