2013-05-01 xml
Debate Around Large-Scale Livestock Farming Must Shift

The debate around intensive livestock production must shift towards finding ways to allow animals to show normal behaviour if sustainable large-scale systems are to help meet food demands.

Amy Jackson, director of Oxtale public relations and co-author of ‘Can Big Be Beautiful’, a report which looked at the sustainability of large-scale livestock systems, says consumer concern that large, indoor systems were unnatural and adversely affect cow health and welfare should no longer drive the debate around the issue.

Large Dairy Parlour

photo © Jennifer MacKenzie

Instead, she says the larger discussion should be about the ‘Fourth Freedom’; the freedom for animals to express normal, but not necessarily natural, behaviour.

“Over thousands of years of breeding cattle we have seen a shift towards high yielding, foraging cows which do not show the same characteristics as those early breeds,” she says.

“Evidence actually shows that what we think they want in terms of behaving naturally, they don’t. Instead we need to focus on designing housing that lets them express their preferences.”

Ms Jackson says any system can deliver good or bad results depending on how it is managed and whether it suits the animals, the area and the market

“Ultimately it should be down to individual farmers to decide how they want to earn their money, and if they do want to use these systems we need to help them implement ones which ensure the highest welfare.”

Ms Jackson is one of several experts who will be debating the issues around large-scale livestock production at the British Society of Animal Science conference, Does Big Mean Bad?

The two-day event, held at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh University on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 May 2013, will discuss whether farmers, policy-makers and consumers should be looking to large-scale systems to secure sustainable, safe and affordable food supplies.

Examining the latest scientific evidence, experts will also discuss whether large-scale systems can ever be good for animal welfare and behaviour, as well as whether concerns over health risks are justified.

Held in association with the Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network and Royal Agricultural Society of England, the event will also look at animal health and welfare, system design and environmental management to identify what is really known and where work still needs to be done.

“Large-scale livestock production is a polarising subject and up until now much of the debate around it has been based on emotion rather than fact,” says BSAS chief executive Mike Steele.

“This conference aims to take a balanced look about what we really know about these systems and what role they have to play in feeding a growing population with nutritious, safe food from animals with high welfare.

“Whether you are a producer, processor, retailer or policy maker, for anyone with an interest in health, welfare and where our food and farming systems have to go next, this conference is a must.”


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