Brussels, 24 April 2002
Where does our beefsteak come from? How are animals fed and treated? In the aftermath of the mad cow and other food scare crises, European consumers are more and more concerned about "farm to fork" food safety.
EU research can help improve animal breeding and living conditions. The European Commission discussed farm animal welfare research at the European level with researchers and other stakeholders during a seminar held in Brussels yesterday.
Participants addressed results so far achieved by EU-supported research, and identified the European Union's requirements for future research in this area. The Commission currently supports projects directly related to animal welfare with €7.5 million. In addition, several animal health projects also contain aspects of welfare research.
Research projects include studies into the transport of cattle over long distances, locomotory dysfunctions in turkey production and genes associated with stress in pigs. This is the first time that scientists involved in EU-funded research have been brought together with representatives of consumer and welfare groups to discuss how research can help implement and develop innovative animal welfare and food safety policies.
Improving animal welfare is key in intensive livestock production: consumers are concerned about the source of animal products. The Commission has supported animal welfare research projects under the current and previous Framework R&D programmes. These projects have focused directly on welfare-related research and also on public opinion about animal welfare issues. The forthcoming Sixth Research Framework programme (2002-2006) will look into animal welfare as a part of policy-related research, with the aim of providing healthy food supplies and exploring new research fields.
Among recently completed projects is a study on public attitudes to welfare issues. The apparent difference between what the public says it wants and purchasing behaviour regarding animal products is sometimes puzzling. Consumers are concerned about animal welfare, though often not as a priority in its own right: welfare is seen as an indicator of good food standards, so that high welfare production is associated with food quality, safety and healthiness. In addition, it appears that, while consumers demand more information on animal production to make informed choices, they sometimes also engage in voluntary ignorance to relinquish responsibility for animal welfare. Similarly, while stating a willingness to pay more for improved animal welfare, these claims are not translated into practice in many cases. Consumers want basic information about methods of production on all animal-based food products labels, including imported products, as well as more detailed background information at point of purchase.
Other projects have tackled issues such as welfare of veal calf production, poultry genetics and feather pecking in chickens. The latter demonstrated that even simple and cheap improvements to the environment in which chickens are raised could substantially reduce feather pecking. A €2 million project is examining the effects of transporting cattle. It shows that significant physiological and biochemical reactions, as markers of stress, occur during loading and unloading of animals.
Although the cattle show some adaptation to long journeys, they do develop an energy deficiency after several hours of transport making regular breaks a necessity. The project has also highlighted differences between cows, bulls and steers in their reaction to transport, complicating the issue of making standard regulations on their movement. In addition, it has shown that animals tire very rapidly when roads are bad or when the standard of driving is poor.
A project on organic farming and its implications on animal welfare has found that, while there is evidence that organic standards have a positive impact on animal welfare, animal health on organic farms is not necessarily better than on conventional farms.
For further information on research projects please visit: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/qual ity-of-life/ka5 (for the 5th R&D Framework Programme)
http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/agro /fair/en/index.html (for the 4th R&D Framework Programme).
For more information on the forthcoming 6th R&D Framework Programme please see: http://www.cordis.lu/rtd2002/fp-debate/ fp.htm
Scientists involved in EU-funded research projects joined with representatives of the European Commission, consumer and welfare groups for the first time on 23 April to discuss how research can help with the implementation and development of innovative animal welfare and food safety policies.
The workshop identified areas for future research, including basic welfare research into pain and stress and areas that impact upon the Common agricultural policy (CAP).
Scientific officer John Claxton from DG Research told CORDIS News that the consumer's viewpoint must not be forgotten and that the Commission is aware of the need to use research to discover whether high welfare standards and high quality are linked. More attention should also be given to the flow of information between scientists, producers and consumers, the workshop participants agreed, highlighting the need for a way of measuring this flow of information.
The Commission is currently supporting projects directly related to animal welfare with 7.5 million euro of finding, in addition to several animal health projects containing aspects of welfare research. Research has included projects on the transport of cattle over long distances, animal welfare in organic farming, feather pecking in poultry, veal calf production, genes associated with stress in pigs, locomotory dysfunction in turkeys and consumer concerns.
The Commission has contributed 1.8 million euro to a project under the Fifth Framework programme examining the effects of transporting cattle over different distances. The project demonstrates that significant physiological and biochemical reactions, which are markers of stress, occur during the loading and unloading of animals. The project has also shown that although cattle get used to long journeys to some extent, they develop an energy deficiency after several hours of transport, making regular breaks a necessity. The project has also highlighted differences between cows, bulls and steers in their reaction to transport, further complicating the issue of making standard regulations on their transportation.
A project carried out under the Fourth Framework programme discovered means of reducing feather pecking in poultry. From 2012, traditional battery cages will be banned in the EU, but the increased risk of feather pecking has been a major obstacle to the adoption of alternative housing systems. Feather pecking consists of pecking and pulling at the feathers of other birds. It can damage plumage, impose an economic burden through increased feed intake, injure the birds and sometimes lead to the painful death of birds. Current remedial measures such as beak trimming and low lighting have been criticised on welfare grounds. The project demonstrated that a high degree of sociability between chickens is inversely associated with feather pecking and selection for sociability helps to reduce the problem. In addition, environmental enrichment with polypropylene string was shown to reduce pecking by encouraging the direction of preening behaviour at the string.
Research into animal welfare will also continue in the next research Framework programme, FP6, where projects will look into animal welfare as a part of policy related research, with the aim of providing healthy food supplies and exploring new fields of research.
For further information on EU funded animal welfare research projects, please consult the following web addresses: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/agro /fair/en/index.html http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/qual ity-of-life/ka5
DN: IP/02/612 Date: 24/04/2002
DN: IP/02/612 Date: 24/04/2002