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Opportunities to improve the health of farm animals

01 January 2013, at 12:00am

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) published its Report on Farm Animal Welfare: Health and Disease at the end of November.

The report aims, says the committee, to highlight the welfare issues that arise out of animal disease and the opportunities for improved animal health in the major species of farm animals, and make recommendations for improvements.

Christopher Wathes, chairman of FAWC and professor of animal welfare at the RVC, said in his introduction: “There is now a considerable body of scientific evidence that farm animals are sentient and can suffer and therefore the effects of disease on mental wellbeing, e.g. fear, distress, anxiety, do affect their welfare.

“By focusing on the direct impact of disease on farm animal welfare and understanding the interactions (positive and negative) between physical and mental health, the report highlights the potential to reduce individual animal suffering.”

He continued: “When disease does occur, early recognition and rapid, appropriate and effective treatment are essential to reduce welfare impact.

“The Report also emphasises the importance of the farm animal veterinary surgeon, who is second only to the stock-keeper/stock-person in ensuring that farm animals in Great Britain are treated humanely. In FAWC’s view, the veterinarian is the pivotal link to continual improvements in farm animal health and welfare.”

Among issues considered are: responsibility and cost sharing; public and private surveillance; resistance to antibiotics and anthelmintics; breeding for disease resistance; and the veterinarian’s trilemma of duty to animal, client and his own interests.

The report calls for new partnership approaches to stimulate substantial improvement in farm animal health.

In a section headed “Future strategies to improve animal health and welfare and the role of different stakeholders”, the report says that the veterinarian has a role as a trainer in treatment and nursing skills and underpinning knowledge to deliver key competencies and ongoing professional development to livestock keepers and their staff.

“As the central advisor to the farm, there is a role to co-ordinate other advisors that may provide expert advice to farms (for example, nutritionists) and to assist the farmer to translate a mix of messages into the best on-farm solution for an individual business,” it says.