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Pioneering animal welfare approach with AssureWel

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Press release issued: 17 October 2018

New guidance outlining a pioneering new approach for farm assurance schemes, retailers and farmers to improve animal welfare has been released following a six-year project with the Soil Association, RSPCA and University of Bristol.

The new AssureWel Manual is shifting the way assurance schemes look at welfare by focusing on the individual animal and looking at 'welfare outcomes' resulting from conditions animals are kept in, such as their physical health and behaviour.

The manual provides a framework designed specifically for use during a farm assurance scheme audit, which traditionally would only have assessed the "inputs", such as diet and how much space each animal is given, without guidance for assessing how effective those resources and management are at directly providing a good level of welfare for the individual animals.

The AssureWel approach covers how to develop, train and use welfare outcomes within the farm assurance context to improve animal welfare. Examples of measures developed include assessing feather loss on laying hens, injuries, body condition and lameness on dairy cows, how pigs are using enrichment items provided such as straw and destructible toys, as well as levels of mortality and their causes.

The protocols are now used by Soil Association Certification and RSPCA Assured, and a number of other schemes such as Red Tractor, Global Animal Partnership and Animal Welfare Approved also use or recommend their use.

Kate Still, livestock advisor at the Soil Association, said: "We want to ensure that all farm animals have the opportunity for a good life, and the only way of properly checking that the resources provided combined with the quality of day-to-day husbandry is delivering this, is to directly assess the condition of the animals, rather than the method of production alone.

"It is essential for assurance schemes to define and evaluate clear inputs standards for providing high levels of animal welfare, but we also need to make sure that we have robust measures for assessing the animal’s wellbeing after those resource standards have been applied.

"For example, organic, which is always free range, provides the highest animal welfare standards and the Soil Association has always set strict limits for flock/herd size - but now assessors have extra guidance via AssureWel to make sure these standards are achieving the aim of minimising stress and supporting resilient health in the animals along with protecting them from harm.

"Working in partnership with the RSPCA and University of Bristol, we have developed a range of practical resources, tools and services, which are detailed in the new AssureWel manual. We are keen to share our experiences of developing and embedding welfare assessment into farm assurance and help promote this approach to improve animal welfare on farm globally."

Dr Siobhan Mullan, Senior Research Fellow in Animal Welfare at the Bristol Veterinary School, added: "The AssureWel partners are committed to an approach that is underpinned by the best available evidence. The University of Bristol has provided scientific proof to the approach outlined in the AssureWel manual. We have used the latest research to find out which welfare measures to use, applied inter-disciplinary findings to help promote behaviour change and provided a rigorous analysis of the data to evaluate the effectiveness of the approach. We have shown that the adoption of the AssureWel approach has improved the welfare of farmed animals."

Sophie Collins, Scientific Officer for Welfare Outcome Assessment in the RSPCA's Farm Animals Department, said: "It has always been an aim of the AssureWel Project to encourage other farm assurance schemes to carry out welfare outcome assessments during their routine farm audits and the manual explains how schemes can achieve this, as well as how they can use the information collected to drive improvements in farm animal welfare.

"The manual contains theoretical and practical information about the development and use of welfare outcome assessments in farm assurance. It also features a series of 'top tips', which summarise the lessons learned from the AssureWel Project and provides key advice to those looking to implement the AssureWel approach themselves.

"Although the AssureWel Project itself focused on developing welfare outcome assessments for farm assurance schemes, the AssureWel Manual is aimed at a much broader audience than this: it has been written for any food or farming industry stakeholder who wishes to assess farm animal welfare in a robust way, or to use the information generated from these assessments to improve the welfare of farm animals."

The manual outlines the four key elements of the AssureWel approach to improving farm animal welfare, as well as providing advice on how to implement the approach and help others to do the same.

The four elements covered in the manual are:

  1. Developing welfare outcome assessment protocols that are fit for purpose
  2. Training and standardising assessors to ensure competence and consistency
  3. Using assessment results to refine farm management and improve animal welfare
  4. Engaging with industry to maximise impact

The AssureWel Manual was launched at the 2018 AssureWel International conference hosted by Global Animal Partnership in Maine, USA.

For a copy of the manual view/Download the PDF or view a page turner version. Printed copies are also available to order by contacting animalwelfareadvisor@assurewel.org

Further information

About the AssureWel project
The AssureWel project aims to develop welfare outcome assessment protocols for farm assurance schemes including RSPCA Assured and Soil Association Certification.

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