Animal production

Welfare Quality®

The ‘List of Five Freedoms’ principle is very useful and practical for welfare research, especially for its assessment on production farms, during transport and slaughter.

In addition, it has served as the basis for many animal protection laws in the European Union and other parts of the world. Despite its clear usefulness, it has two drawbacks: it is sometimes too general and some of the five freedoms conflict with each other. To address these problems, a different approach based on the same principles has been proposed.

The Welfare Quality® project was a five-year European Union research project launched in May 2004 and involving more than 40 scientific institutions from 15 different countries. One of its objectives was to develop European standards for the assessment of animal welfare. Unlike other protocols using mainly technical parameters of the environment, the rules of the Welfare Quality® project are based primarily on observations of animal behaviour.

Animal welfare indicators have also been developed in a number of scientific studies as part of the Welfare Quality® project. The project’s authors used scientific methodology to assess the level of animal welfare on farms and slaughterhouses and assigned ratings on a scale from ‘poor’ to ‘excellent’. According to the Welfare Quality® protocols, four questions must be answered when assessing animal welfare:

  • Are the animals fed properly?
  • Are the animals kept in appropriate conditions?
  • Are the animals healthy?
  • Does animal behaviour reflect their optimised emotional states?

The last point may be the most innovative and controversial aspect. Simply put, it refers to the fact that animals should not feel fear, pain, frustration or any other negative emotional state, at least in a chronic or very intense way.

These four questions make it possible to create a set of 12 criteria on which any wellbeing assessment system should be based. These criteria, grouped respectively according to the four questions, are as follows:

Principles and criteria of the Welfare Quality® protocol:

Adequate feeding

  • no long-term hunger
  • no long-lasting thirst

Adequate housing conditions

  • comfort of the resting place
  • thermal comfort
  • freedom of movement

Good health

  • no injuries
  • no diseases
  • no pain caused by procedures such as castration, tail docking, dehorning, etc.

Appropriate behaviour

  • expression of appropriate social behaviour characterised by a balance between negative (e.g. aggression) and positive aspects.
  • appropriate expression of other behaviours, e.g. balance between negative aspects (e.g. stereotypical behaviour) and positive aspects.
  • good human-animal relations, animals are not afraid of humans.
  • positive emotional state

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) also takes animal welfare into account. In the developed standards entitled. “Terrestrial Animal Health Code” there are general and specific recommendations on housing conditions, care, disease prevention, treatment, use of good practices during transport and slaughter. The individual chapters of this code deal in detail with the welfare of dairy and beef cattle, broilers or pigs.