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Animal welfare: the latest trend or an irreversible groundswell?

Faced with citizen aspirations, the issue of animal welfare is taking on growing importance in the debate on the future of livestock farming.  Some initiatives have been taken, such as the "Western France, Livestock Region" Territorial Innovation Laboratory (LIT), which at the SPACE International Livestock Fair organised a conference on “Animal welfare, an advantage for livestock farms in western France”.

Bien-être animal, un effet de mode ou une lame de fond irréversible ?
Updated on 12/04/2017
Published on 10/02/2017

Is animal welfare a recent issue?  Not really, at least in European regulations where the notion first appeared in 1976 in the European Council Convention on the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes. During the past 40 years, animal welfare has been included in European discussions, and this resulted in the introduction of regulations. But some countries did not wait for the European authorities to vote on laws with respect to animal welfare. For example, in Belgium, a 1929 law punished "any act of cruelty towards animals”.

From imposed regulations to essential adjustments in the market

It is demands from citizens throughout the world that have given new impetus to the issue of animal welfare so that it is now central to the concerns of livestock farmers. Markets have adapted to these demands, so that today satisfactory "proof” of correct livestock management is required. Animal welfare is therefore no longer a choice for farmers but a good practice which must be demonstrated to obtain market access.

In France, some €2 billion have been invested in livestock units during the past 10 years, and major advances have been seen on all sides. Western France (Brittany-Normandy-Loire Valley), which is the leading livestock region in the country, is no exception to this rule; buildings and equipment have undergone radical modernisation. Has this progress procured added value for breeders? Not always, and there’s the rub!

Beyond animal welfare alone

Beyond the major efforts made by livestock farmers, it is the entire production chain that must be mobilised: transport, abattoirs and retail distribution. Demands from society must be heard, but we should not forget health and environmental issues and ultimately the market; they are all essential elements in obtaining added value from these efforts. It is only by taking account of all these factors that livestock farming can look forward to a sustainable future.

Ouesterel, combined efforts to create added value

Having integrated this global approach, the partners in the "Western France Livestock Region" project have placed farmers, consumers and citizens at the heart of their actions, along with the NGOs which contribute to improving livestock practices, regional government bodies, industrial operators, technical institutes and Chambers of Agriculture. Research and training support this first circle. Ouesterel is thus a major project which is focusing on the production of table poultry, eggs, pork and dairy cows. It has initially centred its approach in three regions that are characteristic of the diversity of situations in western France:

  • The Kreiz-Breizh Community of Municipalities in central Brittany for the model of mixed farming in rural areas distant from major conurbations;
  • The Pays d’Ancenis Community of Municipalities for the periurban model, and
  • The three Communities of Municipalities of Pays d’Argentan, d’Auge and d’Ouche for the model of grass-based cattle rearing.

It is hope that this project will subsequently be extended to other regions in western France and then throughout the country.

Ouesterel can be broken down into four working areas:

  • Developing innovations within sectors so as to reduce pain and stress, thus favouring the expression of natural behaviours and reducing the use of antibiotics,
  • Creating value through the development of local distribution channels and the introduction of quality labels,
  • Winning back public opinion through the development of a digital tool to ensure traceability throughout the value chain and the joint construction of actions with citizens,
  • Training, information and communication.

An opportunity for funding is appearing for this project through the French government’s Investments for the Future programme, under the call for expressions of interest relative to “Territories for innovation with major ambitions” (closing at the end of September 2017).

Whatever happens, dialogue has started, federated initiatives are developing and the aim is to match supply and demand in order to determine one or more models for new and sustainable livestock farming.