Animal welfare management in a digital world

Buller, Henry; Blokhuis, Harry; Lokhorst, Kees; Silberberg, Mathieu; Veissier, Isabelle


Although there now exists a wide range of policies, instruments and regulations, in Europe and increasingly beyond, to improve and safeguard the welfare of farmed animals, there remain persistent and significant welfare issues in virtually all types of animal production systems ranging from high prevalence of lameness to limited possibilities to express natural behaviours. Protocols and indicators, such as those provided by Welfare Quality, mean that animal welfare can nowadays be regularly measured and surveyed at the farm level. However, the digital revolution in agriculture opens possibilities to quantify animal welfare using multiple sensors and data analytics. This allows daily monitoring of animal welfare at the group and individual animal level, for example, by measuring changes in behaviour patterns or physiological parameters. The present paper explores the potential for developing innovations in digital technologies to improve the management of animal welfare at the farm, during transport or at slaughter. We conclude that the innovations in Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) offer significant opportunities for a more holistic, evidence-based approach to the monitoring and surveillance of farmed animal welfare. To date, the emphasis in much PLF technologies has been on animal health and productivity. This paper argues that this emphasis should not come to define welfare. What is now needed is a coming together of industry, scientists, food chain actors, policy-makers and NGOs to develop and use the promise of PLF for the creative and effective improvement of farmed animal welfare.