An international trailblazer for animal welfare has called for Australia to review its welfare standards for the treatment of livestock, citing them as far behind other western nations.
John Webster, professor emeritus at the University of Bristol in animal husbandry, outlined the commonly adopted ‘five freedoms’ designed to guide the welfare of animals in human ownership.
They are known generally as freedom from hunger or thirst, discomfort, pain, injury or disease, fear and distress, and freedom to express normal behaviour, and are used by the RSCPA as the benchmark for their accreditation.
However, Professor Webster believes Australian standards are far behind those in Britain.
“There’s still a belief in much of the industry that if an animal is healthy, its welfare has to be good, that productivity is a sufficient measure of welfare,” Professor Webster told the ABC.
“But the ‘welfarists’ consider that the behaviour and emotional state are everything. My argument about the five freedoms is you have to have both good physical welfare and good emotional welfare
“The industry is fearful of change, just as it was in the UK when I started 20 years ago.”
Pork producers in Australia looking to Britain are claiming that UK consumers are purchasing low-cost imports from Denmark rather than the higher-welfare meat produced in Britain. The industry fears the same issues will occur in Australia, decreasing the industry’s profit margins.
“Yes, people are still buying at the lowest common denominator from Denmark,” says Professor Webster. “But competition from supermarkets and demand by consumers in the UK is progressively moving towards people selecting higher-welfare standard foods.”