European Animal Welfare
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Animal love and its livestock origin

More than 10,000 years ago, primitive man was already practising animal husbandry. With the passage of time, this practice improved and managed to include great improvements in the quality of life of the animals. Such was the importance of animal husbandry that it became a key driver for agriculture and vice versa, as food scraps or food unfit for human consumption were destined for livestock.

Livestock farming, and thus livestock farmers, represent a great leap in history. With the use of these practices, society evolved towards today’s consumption systems, where sustainability and responsible practices with animals are an intrinsic part of the trade.

Today, along the above lines, livestock farmers are dedicated to caring for and raising livestock. It seems a simple task, but looking after the health and welfare of their animals requires time, sacrifice and effort. So much so, that in order to ensure their production and guarantee the welfare of their animals, they do not hesitate to sacrifice almost their entire lives to the sector.

Ensuring the highest level of animal welfare is an investment that ultimately involves costs, sacrifices and passion for the animals.

The workers dedicated to the care of ruminants during the breeding process know, observe and analyse them according to certain parameters (in this case those of the European Union, the most demanding in the world). Veterinarians and breeders are present throughout the animal’s life cycle, attending pregnancies, witnessing births and monitoring the condition of the offspring. It is a job in which there is no such thing as time, weekends or holidays, as the animals still need attention and care.

Thanks to the commitment to animal welfare that is increasingly present in the lives of Europeans, factors such as the facilities, feeding and drinking troughs, even the bedding where they lie and the proportions of the rearing space, are ensured and monitored at all times. At the same time, the progress and commitment to animal care of an entire sector has meant that today’s European production systems alone can guarantee animal welfare.

Whether the production is extensive or intensive, there are sufficient parameters and indicators to monitor the animals on a daily basis and guarantee that their lives have developed in accordance with the principle of the Five Freedoms and the commitments set out in the Decalogue «European Animal Welfare Commitment».

Because, at the end of the whole process, a single truth is imperatively defended: the commitment of an entire sector depends on the welfare of its animals. 

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Madrid, European meeting point for animal welfare

Animal welfare is a concern for European citizens and institutions, but above all for producers, scientists and technicians in the sector. On the other hand, there is a need for a meeting point where all the bodies involved in the animal welfare of ruminants for meat production at European level can debate and share knowledge and experience on this issue.

For this reason, on 14 November the Duques de Pastrana Auditorium  (Paseo de la Habana, 208) Madrid, will be the venue for the 1st Symposium on Animal Welfare in meat producing ruminants. The event will be a meeting point for the main decision-makers in the sector and the first event of its kind to be held in Europe.

This event is promoted by the Spanish beef interprofessionals (PROVACUNO) and the Spanish sheep and goat interprofessionals (INTEROVIC) and Hungarian (JTT) as part of the actions that will be held to promote animal welfare over the next 3 years.

In order to guarantee independence and scientific rigour, these three organisations have asked the Spanish Society for the Protection and Welfare of Animals (SEPROBA) to take on the technical secretariat, selection of speakers and organisation of this first event at European level.

The aim of this meeting is for scientists, technicians, producers, certifiers, livestock farmers and different members of the chain to share experiences, debate and analyse, from a scientific and technical point of view, the situation of animal welfare in the European Union.

In this first edition, the event will pay special attention to aspects of the application of legislative proposals in the field of animal welfare that affect the reality of livestock farming and the contribution of accredited certification systems as tools to provide full guarantees of objectivity in the assessment of animal welfare to all parties involved: livestock farmers, the distribution chain, consumers and Public Administrations.

The scientific committee, made up of six scientists and technicians with proven experience in this field, together with the technical secretariat, have been responsible for drawing up the programme for the Symposium and are working on reviewing all the scientific and technical communications that are being received for the event. During the symposium there will be a free presentation of these papers, which will deal with Mediterranean beef, sheep and goat meat production systems.

Finally, the meeting will also include the presentation of the results of the survey on animal welfare in production that SEPROBA has carried out with technicians from the sector.

With limited seating capacity, attendance is free of charge and free of charge, subject to prior registration at the following link.

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Conceptions about livestock farming

Following the animal welfare and animal protection issues of recent years and the regulations entered into law, a change of era is clearly taking place, namely in the direction of humane animal husbandry. Many people are happy to buy the products of manufacturers for whom animal welfare and animal protection are of primary importance. It is worth first separating the related concepts, which began to develop from the mid-60s.

Animal protection: animal protection requires the appropriate treatment of all animals, and prohibits harmful human behavior and aggressive actions towards them. It is a practical activity that arises from a person’s sense of responsibility and duty.

Animal welfare: the concept of animal welfare is closely linked to animal protection. These requirements apply to both private individuals and civil organizations and state bodies. It means a set of holding conditions. Satisfying the needs and demands of the given animal species, keeping them in optimal conditions, for example providing adequate food, fluids, space for movement and rest. Every opportunity must be given to the animal to express its natural behavior.

Animal cruelty: cruelty to animals can be realized in several ways. This includes not only intentional acts of violence, but also negligence, failure to provide a healthy environment, psychological harm in the form of terror, torture or coercion.

These concepts were not only created, but they continued to develop and continue to develop to this day. So when we talk about animal welfare, it cannot be considered a finished concept either, since as science progresses, we dig deeper and deeper, and we learn more and more about the needs of animals, and we are able to satisfy them at an increasingly higher level.

Let’s clear up some misconceptions:

About the free range:

In a survey conducted by Kométa in March 2022, nearly three-quarters (73%) of the respondents said that animal welfare can only be maintained in free-range systems, moreover, more than 9 out of ten (92%) believe that animal welfare is when animals are not kept in sheds and cages.

The word «free» really sounds very positive, it fits perfectly in a text context with the words «animal welfare» and «animal protection» and «nature», but unfortunately many people do not realize that this way of keeping animals can lead to stress and even to the death of the animal too.

Animals kept in this way are demanding: inclement weather, predators and parasites are all lurking for them as a source of danger. That is why the larger a farm is, the more difficult it is to meet the strict criteria and high investment costs.

The question of antibiotics:

In the aforementioned survey, almost all respondents (96%) said that animal welfare means that the animal is healthy, well-fed, and does not feel pain, fear, or anxiety. According to 94 percent, animal welfare includes gentle treatment and humane slaughter. At the same time, this contradicts the fact that according to 84% of the respondents, animal welfare means that animals do not receive antibiotics. The word antibiotic is often associated with negative image associations, not by chance, because the antibiotic entering the human body by eating animal meat or plants treated with its manure can be a source of danger for us. At the same time, the cases when it is necessary to use antibiotics can still be counted, specifically for animal protection and animal welfare reasons. After all, a sick animal not only suffers, but can also infect others. From January 28, 2023, veterinarians must submit data on the use of antibiotics for food-producing animals on a monthly basis.

The measures increased the demand for the introduction of antibiotic substitutes. These active ingredients are immune-boosting, health-preserving, digestive, antibacterial, and sometimes made of plant extracts.

Overall, it can be stated that the use of antibiotics and free-range farming among farm animals are popular topics today. At the same time, industry communications should not move in extreme and inconsistent directions, as this can often mislead consumers.


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What happens if an animal is treated with antibiotics?

Animals get it, but eventually it will be dangerous for humans

The use of antibiotics in livestock is so widespread that, despite the numerous restrictions introduced, it is estimated that even today only one-third of all the antibiotics in the world are administered to humans, and two-thirds are administered to animals.

These substances were used not only for the prevention and treatment of animal diseases, but also for the purpose of increasing yield and stimulating meat, milk and egg production. They were used intensively in the pig and poultry sectors. Previously, they tried to stimulate the growth of cattle with antibiotic preparations, which has been banned in the countries of the European Union since 2006, but is still a legal method in many other parts of the world.

This action is not only unethical for animals, but the antibiotics used in agriculture contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance by consuming foodstuffs of animal origin, thus weakening the effect of antibiotics developed for us in human health.

Unfortunately, the absorption of the above-mentioned preparations in the animals’ bodies is not complete: they are not always able to break down in such a way that a significant amount of them does not remain in the urine or faeces, which then ends up in the manure, which is then used worldwide to improve soil quality, both in ecological and sustainable farming. They are able to survive for a long time in vegetation that has been treated with water and manure containing antibiotics and drugs. Once inside the human body, their accumulation poses an unknown risk to human health.

In May 2016, a multidrug-resistant superbacterium was discovered in the body of an American woman, which is resistant to various drug treatments. The E. coli bacterium that entered the woman’s body and caused diarrhea was of animal origin, which was already resistant to the antibiotics prepared for us before entering the human body. According to an article published by Agrárá in May 2022, diseases caused by multiresistant bacteria may become the leading cause of death by 2050.

The «One Health» initiative states: The health of humans, animals and the environment is actually one and the same. The goal of the initiative is to halve the use of antibiotics by 2030.

Animals are stressed

It is no secret that certain antibiotics are used to preserve the health of animals whose high stress levels trigger certain diseases. Several studies confirm that the solution would not be this kind of prevention, but rather a calm environment and well-being-based husbandry technology. Antibacterial feeds and feed supplements that improve gut health can help.

Latest measures

Thanks to the measures already taken, between 2011 and 2018, the sale of antibiotics for the treatment of farm animals in Europe decreased by a third. However, the series of measures does not stop.

From January 8, 2022, the veterinarian must provide a new report on a monthly basis about the antibiotics used in farm animals kept for the purpose of food production. They must provide an annual report on the circulate of the products by March of each year. They must make this announcement through the Customer Profile System operated by Nébih. Within two years, from 2024, the EU data provision obligation will come into force, and the reports already submitted are the first step towards this. These measures contribute to the protection of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and public and animal health.

Veterinarians who serve a large number of livestock farms must develop an antibiotic use reduction plan for the given facility. NÉBIH publishes a guide on the minimum requirements for antibiotic treatment on its website to help prepare this. In all cases, the implementation of the plan must be supervised by a veterinarian. The procedure is effective from January 28, 2022.

From January 1, 2024, any prescription for a product containing antibiotic active ingredients can be issued by a veterinarian who has an official certificate to that effect. Veterinarians can receive this certificate upon completion of a specialized training course, which can be renewed every 5 years by participating in a new training course, otherwise the certificate will lose its validity.

Internet resources:

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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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Animal Welfare



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