Professor Alistair Lawrence, Acting Group Manager of SAC’s Sustainable Livestock Systems, took part in a Health and Welfare workshop at the National Farmers Union AGM in Birmingham.
Professor Alistair Lawrence
The morning session involved three cross-cutting themes, health and welfare, low carbon farming and next generation food security. Together with Andrea Gavinelli, Head of EU Animal Welfare at DG Sanco in Brussels, and Nigel Gibben the Chief Veterinary Officer, Alistair spoke to what he described as “a very engaged audience in a very positive debate”.
In his address, Professor Lawrence explained that the idea that the public should be concerned for animal welfare had been developing since the 18th century but was sparked off in the mid-1960s by Ruth Harrison's book “Animal Machines” and became increasingly polarised. Animal welfare activists condemned systems like battery cages while farmers justified them as more economic and better for animal health.
Today the debate is less confrontational and focussed on finding acceptable solutions. Alistair outlined projects SAC researchers are involved with. He told the NFU audience SAC is studying the role business economics can play in supplying good farm welfare and pinpointing where the consumer's willingness to pay can be used to advantage. He gave examples from work done on increased efficiency in pig and sheep systems which reduced losses and raised welfare.
According to Alistair Lawrence, the audience was particularly interested in his explanation of how SAC had developed “partial equilibrium” (PE) modelling to explore how improvements to animal welfare could affect trade and environmental outputs including greenhouse gas emissions. It is now being used to assess the wider impacts of more complex welfare improvements including the phasing out of battery cages for laying hens.
Alistair concluded by describing the animal welfare debate as being at a crossroads. Having moved on from concerns about intensive farming it has become one of a number of issues, including climate change. It was important that health and welfare should be the basis of improved production efficiency as the industry strives to meet climate change targets.
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