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Freedom to Express Normal Behavior

The agricultural animal keeper must know the behaviors that reflect the natural behavior of the given animal species and those that differ from it, according to the age and physiological state of the individual.

The natural behavior of animals kept outdoors must always be taken into account when creating facilities suitable for housing them. For an animal kept in closed conditions, the animal keeper is obliged to provide adequate room for movement, adapted to the animal’s needs.

In the case of any husbandry technology, animal welfare means that an environment as close to cultivation as possible must be provided to express the animal’s natural behaviors.

The Hungarian law on animal protection’s basic principle in article 6: «The animal must not be used to unnatural and self-destructive activities.»

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Freedom from Fear and Distress

Anxiety, stress, panic, terror, fear of death, animals feel and experience them all. Not just feeding the animals, the so-called meeting their physiological needs is ideal for them, just as it does not make us happy just to have something to eat, nor even if the food is nutritious, this is only the first step. In order to achieve the good quality of products from farm animals, the stability of their mental state is also a necessary condition.

Ethical behavior seeks to promote the well-being of animals. The law separates different degrees of animal cruelty, starting with a misdemeanor and even classifying it as a crime. For example, fear caused by various noises, temperature changes, deprivation of food and spawning water for the animals during transport can also shorten their lives.

The quality of the meat that ends up on the kitchen table largely depends on how the farm animal was treated, even at the slaughterhouse. Stress also affects lactation, as a result of which the dairy animal’s metabolism can be upset, and due to the adrenaline hormone, it does not give milk, or it gives milk of poor quality. Increased corticosteroid levels due to stress can also be the foundation of health problems.

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Freedom from Hunger, Malnutrition and Thirst

The quality, nutritional composition, and naturalness of the food we eat are of great importance to our entire body, whether it is the strength of our immune system or the maintenance of our stamina, and the processes that take place during our digestion also have an effect on our mood. What we eat reaches our cells, hence the saying: You are what you eat!

There is no question about the conditions in which farm animals are kept, including their nutrition, the quality of their feed, and the quality of drinking water, affect the quality of the food supply chain. Meeting the nutritional needs of different animal species is a complex process, which largely depends on the stage of life the particular animal is in, and how a particular component of the feed is utilized at this age, but it also does not matter what season it is, or what the differences due to climate. Feed is also needed by farm animals fed from pasture, where the quality of the pasture’s nutrient soil requires constant consideration. Malnutrition is therefore not only a consequence of quantitative starvation, but of course our farm animals cannot suffer either from that or from qualitative starvation.

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Zero stress for farm animals

According to leading animal welfare researcher Donald Broom (2005), stress is defined as the action of environmentally induced stimuli and emotions on an animal’s nervous, endocrine, circulatory and digestive systems, which can be measured.

The consequences of a hostile stimulus on an animal depend not only on that stimulus, but also on the animal’s ability to adapt to it. The factors that cause animal stress may be related to the facilities in which the animal lives, its food, the presence of diseases, the possibility of relating to its peers or the relationship of its caregivers.

 It has been demonstrated that having good facilities, a complete and balanced diet, biosecurity measures to prevent diseases, housing conditions with the possibility of expressing natural behaviors, and adequate human care minimize the stress suffered by the animals.

Stress, therefore, is one of the scientifically based parameters that is measurable and becomes one of the parameters that define the welfare of an animal.

Qualified management, a key aspect to ensure animal welfare

Stress not only has an emotional influence on the animal, if it is maintained it can be a trigger for the animal’s susceptibility or infectious diseases and that is why, from birth, and throughout the breeding process, it is necessary to have the right conditions that allow the best possible development of the animals, from having facilities adapted to the needs of each stage of life of the animals; from feeding specific to the physiological state of each stage of life, to vaccination and disease prevention programs, as well as having operators trained in animal welfare, ensures that farm animals suffer less stress than those found in the wild.

For example, the training of workers includes how they should address the animals, instructing them to treat the animals in a slow, never abrupt manner, with a soft voice. Studies show that these guidelines improve stress conditions. Specifically, a study by the University of Vienna published in the journal Frontier in Psychology even states that interactions with animals using the voice may be less positive when spoken artificially, i.e. by using microphones.

Handling, transport and temperature as main stress factors.

Other recommended handling guidelines refer to how the animals should be transported, ensuring that this is always done in a slow, unhurried manner, providing the space they need and avoiding movements at times of high temperature.

Respecting the animal is the main piece when it comes to respecting the production process and the work of many farmers who sacrifice their lives for their animals.

During the breeding process, several factors must be taken into account, such as the fact that all ruminants have a personal space that will depend to a great extent on their nature or docility. Having knowledge of this «escape zone» will be useful to know how to move among those elements with which the animal feels comfortable and free of anguish.

In turn, the «escape zone» is the area around the animal in which it is relaxed. Those ruminants that are tame do not require this specific area, while those that are not, need an escape zone that avoids causing fatigue or stress if it is crossed.

Climate change, the main enemy

Although there is a great diversity of breeds of cows, sheep and goats that are adapted to the environment and are resistant to changes in environmental conditions, one of the aspects that has the greatest impact on stress is temperature.

To adapt to the conditions imposed by an increasingly variable climate, farms have ventilation systems that regulate factors such as humidity, thermal sensation and even the «bedding» where the animals are housed. This allows the animals to better adapt to the thermal situation at any given time. For example, during the summer months, water becomes an essential component for the animals, as does having spaces that are able to provide sufficient shaded, aerated and uncrowded areas.

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Training, a key aspect to ensure true animal welfare

In our previous post we told you how the commendable work of Ruth Harrison was the triggering point that managed to mobilize society so that, today, we can be confident that Animal Welfare is an empirical discipline based on scientific, measurable and traceable criteria that can be followed over time to verify its effectiveness and to ensure the continuous improvement of our farms.

Since the World Health Organization published the Terrestrial Animal Health Code so that member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) could harmonize their national legislation on Animal Welfare, progress in this area has experienced exponential growth. This growth has made it possible to define the areas of action that truly guarantee the welfare and health of animals and that are translated into codes of good practice and different regulations to provide the appropriate regulatory and legal framework.

Among all the aspects that have been established as key to guarantee the true and genuine animal welfare, we would like to highlight the training of the personnel that has contact with the animals in the different stages of their life, and that allows them to be qualified personnel in permanent and continuous training and recycling.

In the case of Spain, Royal Decree 348/2000 on the protection of animals on farms, specifically includes training as one of the fundamental aspects when within the guidelines regarding breeding conditions, by literally demanding «Competent and sufficient personnel for animal husbandry».

Taking into account that in order to guarantee animal welfare it is first necessary to ensure that a series of requirements and parameters have been fulfilled, which must be adequately measured and quantified, it is logical to think that the training of personnel is essential in the management of a farm.

The importance of training to avoid zoonoses.

And this is really important, because, ensuring proper farm management not only ensures good health in animals (which translates immediately into increased production, higher product quality and lower costs), but something even more important. Because good farm management prevents and avoids the possibility of disease transmission to humans.

It is for this reason that the Farm Health and Biosecurity Program, the result of the European commitment to animals, is a program that minimizes the possibility of any external pathogen entering the farm. And, at the same time, it also guarantees that nothing is transmitted outside the farm, thus avoiding zoonosis or transmission of vertebrate animal diseases to humans.

In order to have full guarantees, this program not only contemplates the intrinsic aspects of livestock management itself, but also considers fundamental aspects of the physical location of the farm (physical biosecurity) as well as aspects related to the design of the farm itself (structural biosecurity). Given that all these demands require specific training, RD 348/2000 itself demands the training and suitability of personnel as an essential requirement that must be demonstrable.

Animal welfare certifications and staff training.

In the case of the animal welfare certifications of Interovic, Provacuno and JTT, the training of personnel is one of the fundamental aspects that must be carried out conscientiously, that requires updating over time and that must be possible to demonstrate to a third party.

For this reason, the training is based on the results of scientific studies based on the analysis of the needs of ruminants and a continuous observation that has determined the specific and fundamental needs of these species at each moment of their life.

In addition, these certifications also require that the continuous training of farm operators goes through safety criteria and protection measures that contemplate a wide range of aspects, such as:

  1. Prudent handling of animals and tools.
  2. Knowing the degree of aggressiveness of the animals with which they work.
  3. Correct restraint and containment of the animals so that they do not suffer damage.
  4. Try to move the animals at the first attempt and with the minimum stress for them.
  5. Drive cattle in lateral position with respect to the group of animals.
  6. Be in possession of the necessary protective equipment. 7) Avoid handling during the day.
  7. Avoid handling in the hottest hours on days with high temperatures.
  8. Prevention to avoid contagion with zoonosis:
    • personal hygiene: cover wounds or injuries.
    • Vaccinations of workers at risk.
    • Cleaning and disinfection of facilities.
    • Pest and vector control.
    • isolation of sick animals.
  9. Avoid chemical and physical risks (trauma) and environmental contamination. Use of adequate protection, such as masks. Learning to handle manure and slurry avoiding gas emissions with protective equipment.

Therefore, the animal welfare certifications of Interovic, Provacuno and JTT, not only contemplate the legal requirements, but also put the training in the center and, specifically, the specific training in the handling of ruminants, thus guaranteeing the maximum specialization of the personnel.

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Animal welfare has a woman’s name: Ruth Harrison

While some may think that animal welfare is something relatively new, nothing could be further from the truth. Man’s concern for the health and welfare of animals is at least as old as the practice of animal husbandry itself, dating back to the Neolithic era of primitive man, a whopping 10,000 years ago.

Since the beginning of the relationship between man and livestock, man has provided protection and care for the animals. In fact, it is believed that this protection and care that primitive man provided to animals was one of the aspects that made the domestication of the species possible, since without this condition, animals would not have remained with man when there were no means of containment, such as fences, wire fences or cages.

Today, livestock farming is an essential activity for providing food of high biological value and high nutritional density, a natural source of protein and a series of essential vitamins and minerals. Taking into account feelings and the desire for protection, there is an indisputable axiom: by caring for animals and ensuring that they do not fall ill, we will foster empathy, compassion and human responsibility and with it, our own well-being. That is why, within the personal growth that animals can provide us, it is important to have farmers who care about the welfare of their ruminants and their state of health. In this sense, animal welfare certifications, such as Provacuno, Interovic and JTT, have become an essential tool on farms to establish a protocolized system for monitoring animal welfare and health based on scientific and empirical criteria. A tool that allows continuous monitoring of farm performance based on measurable, quantifiable and traceable parameters when obtaining not only immediate data, but also accumulated historical data, a matter that allows continuous improvement in all aspects: in animal welfare and health

Animal Machines, the book that changed everything.

Although we mentioned that animal welfare has been a concern that has existed and accompanied man since the origin of animal husbandry, it is true that there is a turning point in history that has allowed animal welfare to be based on scientifically based parameters.

We are talking, of course, about Ruth Harrison, who in 1964 published the book

Animal Machines to denounce the conditions of livestock production on certain farms in the United Kingdom at that time. The impact that her publication generated in British society was such that it led Parliament to create the Brambell Committee and, a few months later, in 1965, this Committee postulated the 5 minimum freedoms that all animals should enjoy: to turn around, to take care of oneself, to stand up, to lie down and to stretch one’s limbs.

This postulate was the origin of the subsequent principle of the 5 freedoms formulated by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1993, which defines them as follows:

  • The animal does not suffer thirst, hunger or malnutrition, because it has access to clean drinking water and is provided with a diet adequate to its needs.
  • The animal does not suffer physical or thermal stress, because it is provided with a suitable environment, including shelter from inclement weather and a comfortable, well-drained and clean resting area, with sufficient space to move, lie down and stand up easily.
  • The animal is free from pain, injury and disease, thanks to proper prevention and/or prompt diagnosis and treatment.
  • The animal is able to exhibit most of its normal behavioral patterns, because it is provided with the necessary space and adequate facilities, and is housed in the company of other individuals of its species.
  • The animal does not experience fear, dread or distress, because the necessary conditions are guaranteed to avoid mental suffering. Protected from aggression, mistreatment, dangerous situations or discomfort. No threats or blows.

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«Commitment is what turns a promise into reality»

We are part of the 94% of Europeans who consider it of utmost importance to start caring about farm animal welfare. In this 94% of the population, there are our farmers, our veterinarians, our marketers and in general, our sector. With all of them and with you, we are committed to improve the conditions of the animals with a certification based on purely scientific criteria, with more than 80 measurable, quantifiable and traceable parameters, thus verifying that the animals are truly healthy, cared for and have quality in their lives.

In order to guarantee a reliable animal certification system, we are committed to each of the bases that fulfill our commitment and work for a social change in terms of welfare. Society must understand why it should choose us and which measures comply most strictly with the five freedoms defended by the World Organization for Animal Health, on which we have based the ten basic principles that are at the root of our entire project:

  1. Animal Welfare is a commitment that we have acquired for our animals; with conviction and our own decision.
  2. Our principles are based on the guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health, the legislation in force and the advances of science.
  3. We believe in a world where animals are respected and work for animal welfare throughout society.
  4. For this reason, we are committed to ensure that none of our animals go hungry, suffer from hunger or malnutrition.
  5. We guarantee that they have a life free of fear and anguish.
  6. That they live free of physical and thermal discomfort.
  7. That they can manifest themselves with a natural behavior.
  8. We work with the commitment of «one health», preventing injuries or diseases.
  9. We take this commitment further, guaranteeing biosafety, quality and traceability.
  10. Because we are proud that, in our house, animals have even greater protection and care than in the wild.
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European Consumers demand animal welfare measures and more information on animal welfare at the point of sale

  • 94% of European citizens think it is important to protect the welfare of farmed animals
  • 64% would like to have more information on how farm animals are treated

These are the Eurobarometer data with which the president of the Copa-Cogeca Animal Health and Welfare Working Group, Miguel Ángel Higuera, began his speech during the presentation event of the «European Animal Welfare of Ruminants» campaign that we carried out on April 27th at the European Parliament.

These are undoubtedly data that mark the importance that animal welfare has gained in the life of Europeans, becoming an important concern and a topic always present in any meeting of the Agriculture Committee of the Parliament, as also pointed out minutes before the MEP and Coordinator of the Socialist Group in the Agriculture Committee, Clara Aguilera, during her speech.

But it is not only animal welfare that is of concern. Citizens are also demanding more information, which is why the Parliament created a working subgroup to study a possible label on Animal Welfare at European level, a subgroup to which Higuera also belongs.

The conclusions of this working subgroup define that, at the level of supply and demand, any animal welfare labeling should guarantee equivalent information for all EU consumers and, in addition, should be able to guarantee transparency in the market and offer protection for those producers who apply these high animal welfare standards.

The subgroup also concludes that the objectives of animal welfare labeling must be able to respond to consumer demands for clear and reliable information, offer consumers the possibility to choose the level they are willing to pay, give commercial operators the incentives to improve their standards at their own pace, offer business operators a level playing field between welfare labeling initiatives and provide a framework for continuous improvement of animal welfare.

The animal welfare labeling subgroup concludes that voluntary labeling is preferable to mandatory labeling, especially given the limited acceptance that a mandatory label would have among Member States.

On the other hand, there is concern that voluntary labeling may offer limitations in terms of its impact on animal welfare due to the lower coverage and the risk on acceptance that a voluntary label could have.

The challenge, therefore, is great. Not only because of all the complexity about whether or not it is relevant to establish mandatory labeling, but also because the citizen himself, who is concerned about animal welfare, is not yet willing to pay more for a certified product while the majority believes that more information could have a positive influence towards animals in children and young people (Eurobarometer data).

Thus, consumers must necessarily be sensitized through substantial communication so that they truly appreciate what labeling can offer them and understand that behind this labeling, in addition to animal welfare, comes an increase in costs that must be reflected in the price.

From the Spanish and Hungarian sheep and goat interprofessionals (Interovic and JTT) and the Spanish beef interprofessional (Provacuno) we wanted to live up to the expectations of citizens and producers and therefore we have developed accreditable certificates by the National Accreditation Entity (ENAC) in animal welfare with more than 120 parameters based on scientific criteria, measurable, measurable and, therefore, which can be monitored over time.

Now it is time for citizens. With accredited certificates that fully guarantee, with scientific rigor, transparency and audited by an independent third party (ENAC), they already have full guarantees about how the foods that these certificates distinguish have been produced. Now, yes, the citizen is empowered and has the tools he was asking for to distinguish animal welfare.

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The European Parliament is also clear: scientific basis and transparency are key to any animal welfare certification

After our presentation in Madrid on April 26 at the headquarters of the European Commission Representation in Spain, the next day we went to no less than the European Parliament itself, where we also had the opportunity to present the three-year proposal with which the Spanish and Hungarian Interprofessional Sheep and Goat Interprofessionals (Interovic and JTT) and the Spanish beef interprofessional (Provacuno) will promote and disseminate animal welfare and accredited certifications with which consumers will be able to recognize sheep meat at the point of sale, goat and beef meats that have been produced in compliance with strict parameters that guarantee in a solvent, transparent and scientifically rigorous manner, the health and welfare of the animals.

For this occasion we had the invaluable collaboration of the MEP and Coordinator of the Socialist Group in the Agriculture Committee, Clara Aguilera. On this occasion, the event was aimed at parliamentarians and entities of the sector. During the course of the event, the interprofessionals proceeded to present the contents of the campaign preceded by the intervention of Miguel Angel Higuera, president of the Animal Health and Welfare Working Group of Copa-Cogeca and member of the subgroup on animal welfare labeling created by the European Commission within the framework of the EU Platform on Animal Welfare.

During the welcome, the MEP, Clara Aguilera, stressed the importance of having certifications based on scientific criteria, traceable, guaranteed and measurable over time and stressed her great satisfaction «to see that two Spanish interprofessionals, along with its Hungarian counterpart, have taken the initiative and have been ahead of the requirements to be established from Europe in terms of animal welfare». Likewise, the deputy has pointed out the importance of adequately informing the citizenship since «the changes must be recognized by the consumer because all the changes suppose an effort and a cost and the consumers are not so conscious of all that it supposes, reason why they do not appreciate them in their true dimension».

For his part, the president of the Copa-Cogeca Animal Health and Welfare Working Group, Miguel Angel Higuera, stressed that this is a campaign that comes to respond to the demands of European citizens in terms of animal welfare since, «according to data from the Eurobarometer Attitudes of European citizens towards AW, 94% of Europeans believe it is important to protect the welfare of farm animals and, in addition, public opinion demands and requires more information on the conditions in which they are raised».

In this sense, the president of Interovic, Raúl Muñiz, pointed out that the «European Animal Welfare Commitment is an initiative promoted by Interovic and Provacuno together with JTT and which aims to promote accredited certification seals in animal welfare that are not only in accordance with the principle of «The five freedoms» and with all the legislative requirements in this area demanded by the EU and national authorities, but, «They have wanted to go a step further, adding an important number of voluntary commitments, all of them objective and based on scientific criteria, which analyze in depth the animal, its environment and the relationship it has with the people who take care of it in order to fully guarantee the health and welfare of ruminants through the certification carried out by the certifiers, accredited for such purposes by a National Accreditation Entity».

During the reading of the Decalogue Animal Welfare Commitment, the director of Provacuno wanted to take the opportunity to announce that Interovic and Provacuno have made available to all European producers who require it, as has been the case of the Hungarian interprofessional JTT, all the work developed for the creation of their accredited certification seals, which will mean significant savings in costs and time in the implementation, for all European producers who are thinking of developing some kind of accredited certification in their country.

On the other hand, the president of Provacuno, Eliseo Isla, wanted to emphasize the importance and the differential value that an accreditation contributes to any certification since «the accreditation by third parties not only guarantees the transparency and the continuity in the time but, it supposes a guarantee so much for the consumer as for the own cattle dealer, Thanks to the requirements imposed by an accredited certification, the farmer undergoes a process of continuous improvement and can also have the peace of mind that the way he works and cares for his animals is adequate and will therefore be valued and appreciated by both the consumer and the institutions. The effort will have been worthwhile,» Isla concluded.

Finally, the presidents and directors of Interovic and Provacuno wanted to send a warm greeting and wish for a speedy improvement to their counterpart, the director of JTT who is convalescing, reason why he could not be present in any of the presentation acts. For these three interprofessionals, this act, undoubtedly, carried an important emotional charge, especially because they saw recognized the great effort and #commitment that these producers have acquired with the Animal Welfare and that encourages them to continue working in this path, which, undoubtedly, is the only one. Because if there is something that from Interovic, Provacuno and JTT is clear to us is that now is the time, because #NoPlanetB.

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Scientific basis and accreditation, the two fundamental aspects that any animal welfare certification should comply with

Last April 26th we presented in Madrid the promotion plan «European Animal Welfare of Ruminants». A three-year program financed with European funds for the Spanish and Hungarian sheep and goat interprofessionals (Interovic and JTT) and the Spanish beef interprofessional (Provacuno) to promote and disseminate animal welfare and accredited certifications with which the consumer will be able to recognize at the point of sale the sheep, goat and beef meats that have been produced in compliance with strict parameters that guarantee in a solvent, transparent and transparent way, The event took place at Provacuno’s head office in Madrid, Spain, and was attended by the Spanish Association for the Promotion and Promotion of Animal Welfare (Provacuno) and the Spanish Meat and Beef Association (Provacuno).

The event took place at the headquarters of the Representation of the European Commission in Spain where the day began with a warm welcome by its director, Mª Ángeles Benítez, who lamented that the European livestock sector is sometimes unjustly discredited, ignoring the important contribution it makes to citizens (providing safe food of important density and nutritional value) and to ecosystems and the environment. «Although production systems can all be improved and must continue to adapt to the requirements of the fight against climate change and environmental protection, the current European legislation is the most demanding in the world in terms of animal welfare, environment, quality and safety for sustainable production to ensure affordable quality food for Europeans,» said Benítez.

The welcome was followed by the presentation of the campaign and the reading of the decalogue of the Animal Welfare Commitment that the Spanish and Hungarian sheep and goat farmers and the Spanish cattle farmers wanted to express to society their commitment to the health and welfare of animals.

The day ended with an interesting round table on «The importance of accredited certification» which was moderated by Viviana Kuncar, an expert in certification and director of the food consultancy firm VKF, with the participation of the head of the Agri-Food and GLP Department – ENAC, Pilar Pérez, the general manager of the Inter-Food Forum, Víctor Yuste, and the commercial manager of the company DeOvino, which has accredited certification in Animal Welfare, Valentín Sánchez.

The members of the Forum explained the keys that define the credibility and rigor of the certifications. In this respect, Pilar Pérez of ENAC stressed the importance of accredited certifications, since «an accredited certification provides confidence to users by guaranteeing that the certification entity has technical competence, is impartial and independent, and has the necessary resources to carry out its work properly, since only accredited certification entities have demonstrated to an independent third party their competence and impartiality to provide the certification service».

For his part, the general director of the Inter-Food Forum, Víctor Yuste, insisted that today’s consumer has changed and «has a sustainable vision with the environment and animal welfare», which is why today «it is essential to inform him properly and truthfully about what the certifications in Animal Welfare imply, as these interprofessionals are going to do during the next three years with this campaign that is presented today».

From the point of view of production, the commercial manager of the company DeOvino, Valentín Sánchez added that the accredited certification in Animal Welfare introduces important advantages to farmers and their environment since «it is a tool that allows to maintain the different parameters that affect the animals under a continuous surveillance system and this also brings tranquility and welfare to both farmers and those who work every day with the animals, as well as the supply chain, in addition to the socioeconomic welfare of the environment».

The day ended with the intervention of the president of Provacuno, Eliseo Isla, who, coinciding with the conclusions of the round table, wanted to emphasize that «the accredited certifications offer the maximum guarantees of independence and transparency of the certification process and are valid and recognized at international level». Likewise, Isla insisted on the importance that «accredited certifications are based on scientific parameters that measure what really affects the welfare of the animals and that are measurable and quantifiable repeatedly over time so that, in this way, they can really be objective, have traceability over time and can be monitored to ensure the welfare of the animal».

The president of Provacuno said goodbye asking for the collaboration of the institutions and the media to disseminate rigorous and scientifically based messages to put an end to fakes and to make it easier for consumers to truly know the meaning and scope of what an accredited certification in animal welfare offers them and reminded them that «farmers are at the top of the list of those interested in animal welfare. Without animal welfare, production is not possible».

This event may seem like just another event that the agri-food sector carries out every day, but the reality is that, without a doubt, it is a milestone that marks a before and after because it is a step forward in demonstrating the commitment of an entire sector that wants to do things in the best possible way and with the greatest possible honesty and transparency.

It only remains for you, reader of this message, to perceive this feeling and join in this #commitment that should belong to everyone: the sector, but also the institutions and society.

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