The symposium, Animal Machines of the Future, was the third CABI Symposium on Animal Welfare and Behaviour, and also launched the new book Dilemmas in Animal Welfare, by Appleby, Sandoe and Weary. CABI is a scientific publisher and animal health and welfare are among its key areas of specialisation.
Experts speaking at the event asked what Ruth Harrison would make of farm animal welfare 50 years on. In a lively debate, they concluded she would have supported progress such as EU bans on veal crates, sow stalls and barren battery cages, but disappointed with the slow speed at which improvements are being made, especially in countries outside the EU. Chairing the discussion panel of international experts was Martin Whiting of the RVC.
The symposium was opened by Mike Appleby of World Animal Protection, who analysed issues such as ‘animal and machines’, ‘animals as machines’ and ‘animals and the machinery of governance’.
In his talk, he compared the improvement of animal welfare to “climbing the infinite stairway.” He spoke about the Animal Protection Index, which will provide a key reference to the state of animal welfare in 50 major livestock producing countries. Considering future developments, Dr Appleby noted: “Global communications are a real catalyst for change in improving animal welfare.”
Peter Sandoe from the University of Copenhagen spoke about the effect of the Brambell report, which came about as a direct consequence of the publication of Animal Machines, and has gone on to shape legislation in the UK and EU. He concluded that whereas legislation has had a very positive effect on animal welfare in some parts of the world, it has made little progress in others.
Animal welfare from the perspective of a large food company was presented by Dr Jen Walker of Dean Foods, one of the largest processors of milk in the USA.
She commented that: “The increasing importance of animal welfare to consumers, and the need to protect brands and build consumer trust, means that companies are more frequently taking a lead role in animal welfare initiatives.”
She also noted that improving human-animal interaction is the most important way to raise welfare standards in animal production.
Looking at the big picture of livestock production in terms of economics, health, climate change, food security, ethics and sustainability, Dr Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network discussed alternative scenarios for future livestock production and their potential impact on future animal welfare.
In the final presentation, Professor Don Broom spoke about sentience - “Having the awareness and cognitive ability necessary to have feelings” - and how this will shape the animal welfare debate. The issue of sentience will bring animal welfare into areas such as fish and crustacean production, where, until now, there has been very little consideration of welfare.