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‘AssureWel’: Advancing animal welfare assurance through the certification process

Chair: Phil Stocker (Soil Association)

Iain Rogerson (Soil Association): Introduction to welfare assessments
Iain is an inspector manager for Soil Association Certification Ltd based at home in Penrith, Cumbria. Before that he was a small scale organic farmer in Cumbria for 10 years after starting his working life on non organic livestock farms in the UK and abroad. Iain looks after a team of inspectors in the north of England and Scotland and manages the training for all the inspectors. For the last few years he has been working on incorporating animal welfare assessment in to our inspection/certification system.
Presentation - Introduction to welfare assessments

Alison Bond (Soil Association): Introduction to the AssureWel Project
Alison is the Senior Project Officer for the AssureWel project in the Soil Association. She coordinates activities within the Soil Association and with Soil Association Certification Limited in delivering the project aims and objectives. Her role specifically aims to develop the use of animal welfare outcomes standards in the Standards department and with Soil Association Certification Limited. Previously she has been researching the use of welfare outcome measures as an assessment tool in the pig production chain on farm and in abattoirs, based in the stunning and slaughter research group at the University of Bristol.
Presentation - Introduction to the AssureWel Project

Dr Siobhan Mullan (University of Bristol): Linking animal welfare research with ‘AssureWel’
Siobhan Mullan graduated from the University of Glasgow Veterinary School and worked in both mixed and small animal practice before joining the Animal Welfare and Behaviour research group at the University of Bristol Veterinary School. Her PhD examined the feasibilty and benefits of including some animal-based welfare assessments within UK pig farm assurance schemes. Her role in the AssureWel project is to provide scientific guidance on the best forms of animal welfare assessment in order to ensure validity of the approaches taken by the Soil Association and RSPCA schemes.
Presentation - Linking animal welfare research with ‘AssureWel’

Kate Still (Soil Association): Animal welfare advice and producer support
Kate recently joined the Soil Association as the new Animal Welfare Advisor. The post sits both as part of the AssureWel project and with in Producer Support. She will be delivering a programme of animal welfare advice and support including one-on-one visits, workshops and events, publications and an online support network. Kate has previously had farm advisory roles in wild plant conservation and agri-environment schemes and farm business and has also worked on farms in the UK and Australia primarily with dairy cows but also sheep and pigs. Although based in Wiltshire Kate will be delivering a UK wide programme of advisory support.
Presentation - Animal welfare advice and producer support

Session Summary -
‘AssureWel’ is joint project of the Soil Association, Bristol University and the RSPCA funded by the Tubney Charitable Trust with the aim to explore how welfare outcome assessment can be introduced into the certification systems. The session introduced both outcome based assessments and the approach to include this into certification and explore methods of providing advice and support for farmers
Iain Rogerson (Soil Association): Introduction to welfare assessments
Organic principles, the Organic Regulation and the Soil Association standards require a high level of animal welfare in organic systems. Similarly, other schemes such as the RSPCA Freedom food also aim to raise the welfare of animals on farm. Up until now, such schemes have mainly set and monitored resource or ‘input’ based standards, such as stocking densities. This is important in determining the welfare potential of a system but does not guarantee a good experience of life for animals. Several methods of measuring the welfare outcome through direct monitoring animals have been developed but they can be time consuming and require specialist training.
Alison Bond (Soil Association): Introduction to the AssureWel Project
Improving animal welfare is an important driver of consumer choice. In the AssureWel project the Soil Association works with the RSPCA alongside the University of Bristol to embed the use of outcome measures into the inspection and certification processes of the two schemes. The aim is to choose 5 core measures per species that can be incorporated into inspections and that will provide consistent, repeatable and valid measures of the welfare outcomes of the production system. Producers will notice an enhanced animal-based focus in their annual inspections, and will be given access to advisory support. The use of outcome measures could also contribute to development of simplified standards, allowing producers greater flexibility whilst ensuring that animal welfare is maintained.
Dr Siobhan Mullan (University of Bristol): Linking animal welfare research with ‘AssureWel’
The role of Bristol University in the project is to provide a link to animal welfare research and ensuring that the core measures chose are relevant and suitable to improve animal welfare and that they can be applied consistently. The appropriateness of certain indicators was illustrated for poultry. Poor feather cover is a good indicator of welfare risk factors in terms of skin injuries and increased metabolic stress. Feather loss over back/ rump is usually due to feather pecking (pulling) and the link between pulling out feathers and the animal feeling pain is well established. A way to increase consistency can be to introduce a focus on severe cases, for example in the case of lameness of cattle and use fewer categories in scale. More experience and training of the assessors can also improve consistency. The final question where research will support the project is with the question how many animals should be observed.
Kate Still (Soil Association): Animal welfare advice and producer support
Advisory support to farmers is a key element of the AssureWel project in order to stimulate pro-active husbandry changes to improve animal welfare. Inspectors will provide immediate feedback on welfare outcome assessment core measures at the time of inspection. Farmers will then be signposted to further advice if improvement is possible or required. Animal welfare is a highly sensitive issue and different farmers will find different formats of advice more suitable, so a range of methods will be explored. The programme will include: targeted, individual support; learning networks and group workshops; broader health & welfare events; on-going support via email and web-based forums; fact sheets and on-line resources; and a best practice award scheme that will celebrate both attainment and improvement in relation to the core measures. The team is keen to gain feedback on what are preferred methods of receiving advisory support in order to deliver the most effective programme.
The session provided a good a very interesting introduction to the AssureWel project that started in 2010 and a short report to progress to date. Overall there was agreement that this project is an important initiative in an area of organic farming that is of great interest to consumers. The project began with choosing core measure for poultry that are now been introduced as part of the certification process. Dairy cows next on the to-do list. In each case core measures are chosen considering the more detailed welfare outcome assessment protocols of the EU project WelfareQuality® (www.welfarequality.net). AssureWel will also consider qualitative measurements of animal welfare as part of the project, whereby an observer spends some time with the herd and writes notes of their observations.
The discussion also covered some philosophical questions, for example on the quality of life of farm animals prior to death through slaughter. It highlighted the importance of providing support to farmers. Support will focus on the core indicators for each species and needs to be within the principals of organic farming. Welfare risks are often influenced by a variety of factors that all need to be considered. Involvement of all the staff involved in handling the herds is very important to achieve improvements.

Back to Conference Home‘AssureWel’: Advancing animal welfare assurance through the certification processPhil Stocker (Soil Association)