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Animal welfare initiative to improve the lives of millions of dairy cows

Press release issued: 1 June 2012

A new animal welfare tool is being launched to help improve the lives of millions of dairy cows across the UK through practical, reliable and scientifically robust methods of direct observation.

This standardised system of direct observation has been developed as part of the AssureWel project, led by the RSPCA, the Soil Association and the University of Bristol. It is a quick and simple way to assess the welfare of dairy cows which can be used by farm assurance schemes, farmers, vets and other animal welfare professionals.

For the past year this new system for assessing animal welfare has been carried out on Soil Association and RSPCA Freedom Food approved laying hen farms, which make up 97 per cent of the non-caged laying hen industry.

Inspectors from RSPCA’s Freedom Food and the Soil Association will now undergo training in the AssureWel welfare measures for dairy cows and by July 2012 all their dairy inspections will include these new welfare assessments. The results will be discussed with producers and, if needed, advice will be given on how to improve welfare even further.

In a major landmark for dairy welfare, AssureWel has been working with Red Tractor, which assures 95 per cent of the milk produced in the UK (this figure includes Freedom Food and Soil Association certified farms), and it has agreed to introduce the core AssureWel measures into all their dairy assessments.

The dairy cow assessment includes looking at:

  • Mobility
  • Body condition
  • Cleanliness

Anna Fraser, Scientific Officer within the Farm Animals Department at the RSPCA, said: “We’ve had great feedback from Freedom Food farmers so far. The AssureWel assessment is a quick, simple way of measuring animal well-being. We know producers on our scheme care passionately about animal welfare and will go the extra mile to make their animals lives even better.”

Dr Alison Bond, animal welfare expert at the Soil Association, said: "It is clear that industry harmonisation on animal welfare assessment is needed and we believe AssureWel provides the vehicle to help do that.  It is an objective way to discuss the well-being of farm animals and illustrates best practice whilst helping to tackle any challenges.”

Dr David Main, animal health and husbandry expert at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences, said: “We aim to embed AssureWel’s standardised approach across all the major farm animal species. Working with Red Tractor instantly means we are working with the majority of dairy farmers in the UK which could potentially have a massive impact on dairy cow welfare.”

Derek Kennedy, head of dairy at Red Tractor, said: "We have made excellent progress in our aim to introduce welfare outcome assessment into Red Tractor dairy thanks to our work with AssureWel. They have managed to turn animal welfare science into a worthwhile package of measures that can be delivered in practice."

Further information

About AssureWel

AssureWel is a five-year (2010-2015) project led by the RSPCA, the Soil Association and the University of Bristol, supported by the Tubney Charitable Trust. The aim of the project is to improve the welfare of laying hens, dairy cattle, pigs, broilers, beef cattle and sheep though a practical system for assessing their well-being. AssureWel’s ‘welfare outcome assessments’ are scientifically validated measures of welfare achieved by looking directly at the animals, rather than their environment or management.

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