The Animal Welfare Approved standards incorporate best practices, recent research and science and have been adopted only after thorough review. The basic premise of all the standards is that animals must be able to behave naturally and be in a state of physical and psychological well-being. The article below serves as an introduction to a series of “Technical Advice Fact Sheets” (TAFS), which can be found on the “Science and Research” page.
There has been a very long relationship between humans and animals kept for meat, milk or fiber. Archeological evidence puts the first attempts at domestication of livestock as early as 9000 BC. Domestication allowed man to work in harmony with animals for mutual benefit. Some might say that this was the beginning of food animal “science” – the start of man working out ways of getting the best from their relationship with these domesticated animals.
In more recent times the majority of food animal science has been directed at improving feed conversion, growth rates and yield. As incredible as this science is most of it failed to recognize the needs of the animal and focused purely on production and profit. With the need to meet an ever increasing demand for livestock products, animals became a part of the system rather than the heart of the system.
This need to increase output at all costs drove systems that depend on antibiotics to keep animals alive and physical mutilations to stop animals eating and attacking each other from stress related aggression and boredom. Science has now altered genetic lines such that they are now imbalanced. Chickens and turkeys can no longer mate naturally and sows produce many more piglets than they can naturally rear. Animals that once had active immune systems now need constant veterinary treatments – often using the same medication given to humans. This has caused problems of resistance that affects our ability to treat both people and animals.
The Animal Welfare Approved program believes that science has an important role to play in livestock production and management, but it must be science that places the animal first. Animal Welfare Approved has developed our standards based on science that reflects the real needs of the animal. Within the section on research, science and the latest thinking we are providing a number of papers and links to help people understand how and why our standards say what they say, bringing together the conclusions and arguments from published data.
The key premise of the program is that the right breed of animal in the right environment will be healthy, productive and “happy.” All domesticated farm animals have innate drivers derived from their ancestry. A sow that has been confined to a concrete pen and never touched pasture in her life will quickly “remember” how to root and forage when given the opportunity. A chicken will overcome its fear of water and cross a bridge if it has the opportunity to find a darkened space in which to nest and lay eggs.
The Animal Welfare Approved standards recognize these innate drivers and make provision for their expression. For example cattle have a behavioral need to live as a herd and seek nutrition from pasture – allowing this behavior is required by our standards. Similarly cattle are ruminants with stomachs designed to process grass rather than grain. If grain is a major part of the diet, the net result is an unbalanced digestive system and potentially a compromised immune system. This “unnatural” feeding is prohibited by the standards.
This core tenet of the program – to require that animals are allowed to express their ancestral behaviors with access to range, foraging areas and pasture – allows animals to carry out innate behaviors such as rooting for pigs, browsing for sheep and goats and a forage diet for cattle. When partnered with the right breeds and genetics this has been shown to promote the development of a strong immune system and facilitate healthy muscle and skeletal development.