“The term welfare refers to the state of an individual in relation to its environment and is measurable” (Donald Broom, animal welfare researcher).
Criticism of the conditions of maintenance, care and handling of animals in factory farming first emerged in the 1960s.
The basic assumptions of animal welfare appeared in a report commissioned by the British government (Brambell 1965). The assumptions of farm animal welfare were developed in more detail by the Farm Animals Welfare Council (FAWC) and are contained in the so-called Farm Animal Welfare Code (FAWC 1992).
Welfare is the state in which an animal is able to adapt to its environment, is able to ‘cope’ with the environment in which it finds itself (Broom 1996). Animal welfare can also be defined as the satisfaction of the animal’s physiological and behavioural needs and the provision of consistent comfort and a high level of care (Kołacz and Kupczyński 2015). Physical health has a major impact on animal welfare. However, welfare means more than just physical and biological comfort, as it takes into account the emotional balance dependent on the fulfilment of individual and species behavioural needs. It therefore takes into account the psychological aspect of experiencing positive and negative stimuli. It directly – or indirectly – influences animal health, reproduction and productivity.
Sustainable livestock production takes into account environmental, social and economic aspects. More broadly, it also takes into account animal welfare, which is linked to social attitudes and has a concrete economic dimension. For many years now, animal welfare has had a place in the consciousness of breeders, veterinarians, workers in the processing sector and society as a whole. Animal welfare is also clearly enshrined in EU and national, Polish legislation.
Both animal welfare and food quality are of great importance to humans, the consumers, and animal welfare standards are currently one of the important priorities in the EU. Animal welfare is an integral part of the whole process of quality food production, and high welfare standards equate to superior meat, milk and egg quality and greater resistance of animals to disease.
Breeding and rearing methods, as well as animal welfare, are constantly being improved. New ventilation and lighting systems, better feed formulas and milking systems are being developed. Transport and slaughter methods are also closely monitored. Reducing transport time, attention to safety, efficient and gentle handling of the animals are all important factors affecting animal welfare. Minimising stress at these stages has a significant impact on the final quality of the meat – its colour, pH or tenderness and microbiological safety.
Modern husbandry systems meet the basic needs of the animals in terms of: nutrition, access to water, necessary living space, provision of companionship with other animals, treatment, hygienic maintenance, housing microclimate, light conditions, etc. At the same time, they do not allow the animals to be maimed and provide protection from poor climatic conditions.
Welfare issues mainly concern farm animals, but there is also research and action to improve the living conditions of laboratory animals and non-domestic species living in zoos.
There are a number of EU Directives and Council Regulations that relate to animal welfare. The guidelines contained in the Directives have been implemented into Polish domestic law by laws and ministerial decrees, while the Council Regulations are direct and directly applicable acts. The most important legal act is the Animal Welfare Act of 21 August 1997 (Journal of Laws 1997 no. 111, item 724 as amended) and implementing acts: the Ordinance of 15 February 2010 on requirements concerning the handling of livestock (Journal of Laws 2010 no. 56 item 344), Ordinance of 10 September 2015 concerning regulations on the determination of principles for keeping livestock (Journal of Laws 2015 item 1516), Ordinance of 17 December 2009 on the manner of determining the stocking density of broiler chickens (Journal of Laws 2009 no. 223 item 1784). The issue of animal transport is regulated in Poland by Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 of 22 December 2004 on the protection of animals during transport, amending earlier Directives 64/432/EEC and 93/119/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1255/97.
The European Commission is planning a review of animal welfare legislation, including rules on animal transport and slaughter, to bring it in line with the latest scientific knowledge, extend its scope, facilitate enforcement and ultimately ensure a higher level of enforcement. Strategic plans and new EU strategic guidelines for aquaculture will also support this process. The European Commission will also consider the possibilities of labelling food of animal origin, providing information on animal welfare.