Posted on Jan 26, 2021 at 7:04 am

History is accelerating around the vast issue of animal welfare. The National Assembly examines this Tuesday a majority bill punishing mistreatment of domestic animals and equines.

In addition, a new decree will impose from January 1, 2022 the appointment of an animal welfare referent in each farm. “This will involve significant support work”, notes Luc Mounier, director of training at VetAgro Sup, in Lyon, and head of a chair working since 2001 on animal welfare. “It is a societal subject towards which all stakeholders, and not just breeders, have an obligation to go”, adds Raphaël Guatteo, teacher-researcher at the Nantes veterinary school Oniris.

Five fundamental freedoms

Animal welfare or “BEA”, reminds this veterinarian, corresponds to the five fundamental freedoms which are: access to water and food, the fact of not suffering from discomfort, that of preventing pain, injuries. and diseases, not to feel fear or distress, and finally the possibility that animals have to express the natural behaviors specific to their species.

The National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) offers an even more encompassing definition, approaching the notion of “welfare” in English. In order to objectively measure these criteria in poultry, the Terrena group, a pioneer in the field, equipped itself in 2015 with a self-assessment tool with the Tibena application, broken down into 12 parameters. The principle was taken up by Itavi, the technical institute working for the poultry industry with its protocol called “Ebene”.

Retired Layers

No actor denies it: beyond the ethical question, the stake is economic. The sudden development of the shell egg market bears witness to this. A few months were enough for the eggs from free-range farms to replace those from battery layers. The young company Poulehouse even extrapolated the approach by offering a peaceful retirement to its reformed hens.

“The consumer’s willingness to pay more for products with higher added value, in particular beef or pork, remains to be proven”, nuance, nevertheless, Luc Mounier. Without being fooled by “welfare washing”, which would be like the “green washing” of pure fashionable displays, the researcher distinguishes notable advances, including labeling (from A to E) on poultry, launched in 2018 by the AEBEA association bringing together several NGOs and distributors. Very zealous on this point, the Fermiers de Loué have, for example, quadrupled the range of perches for their poultry in this context.

Boycott

Another issue is the risk of image degradation. Herta, recently pinned down by the L214 association for the practices of breeding in his “preferred sector”, paid the price with, as a result, calls for a boycott in England. Luxury industry is particularly vigilant on this point, for leather. Conversely, manufacturers compete in terms of communication on new outdoor breeding concepts. This is the case with Fleury Michon or Bordeau Chesnel.

In Plestan, in the Côtes-d’Armor, 265 sows will soon settle in a connected farm, where animals can evolve in several living areas “, explains the Le Gouessant group, which is taking this initiative. Sensors and cameras will collect as much information as possible on the behavior of the animals. However, such practices meet a premium demand. It would be impossible, given the surfaces necessary for this method of breeding, to provide all of the needs in this way. “, Raphaël Guatteo points out.

Pastures

LIT Ouesterel, an association founded by Inrae and the Terrena and Eureden cooperatives, is one of the centers of innovation in the field of BEA. This territorial innovation laboratory, created in 2019, brings together around forty players from industry, mass distribution, NGOs, academics and start-ups. Cautious about the issue of initiating a new regulatory layer that would be imposed on farmers, he is carrying out a series of experiments in breeding conditions to generalize them if possible.

In Central Brittany, in particular, it is the end of the castration of pigs – to which the Cooperl group is committed – and the new configurations of livestock buildings that are being studied. Near Ancenis, in Loire-Atlantique, we are working on short circuits, limiting animal transport . In the land of Argentan, in Normandy, studies focus on the abrogation of dehorning of calves and on how to reconcile large herds and pastures, which can be counter-intuitive.

“It is not because the animal is on the pasture that its level of well-being increases”, notes Raphaël Guatteo. “It all depends on whether the pasture is comfortable, if it provides enough food, if it offers shelter …”

“A breeder cannot have a productive herd if the animals do not have a certain level of welfare”, continues the veterinarian, evoking the notion of “one welfare”, according to which animal welfare, that of the breeder and environmental issues are linked.

AI-powered animal monitoring solutions are on the rise

A host of surveillance technologies, involving image analysis and artificial intelligence, are entering the livestock market. Among the prominent players is the Nantes start-up AI Herd. Copeeks, Medria, Applifarm, Allflex, to name but a few, also offer fine solutions for the analysis of livestock. These technologies are of great interest to laboratories, anxious to expand their offer in a context encouraging a decrease in medication. Such tools make it possible to prioritize animals that deserve more attention. These technologies could ultimately allow syndromic surveillance, the early emergence of an epidemic, like Google Flu Trends for human influenza, with, as a result, a reduction in treatments. High throughput phenotyping is another avenue under consideration. Or how to detect, via data feedback, lines free from disease with, again, a performance objective.

An “animalist” bill

The bill which arrives in parliament on Tuesday, carried by LREM deputies Loïc Dombreval, Laëtitia Romeiro Dias is aimed especially at French people sensitive to the cause of domestic animals, more than to agricultural or biodiversity issues. In particular, it tightens the sanctions against mistreatment, with three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros for death of the animal. The subject mobilizes 500 amendments and deputies of all stripes who will shrug off the absence in the text of controversial subjects such as hunting or bullfighting.

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