Animal-based parameters are no panacea for on-farm monitoring of animal welfare
On-farm monitoring of animal welfare is an important, present-day objective in animal welfare science. Scientists tend to focus exclusively on animal-based parameters, possibly because using environment-based parameters could be begging the question why welfare has been affected and because animal-based parameters would be better indicators of welfare. However, selection of even the best animal-based parameters that have conventionally been used in experiments could have unacceptable consequences. Systems that are generally considered to be poor welfare systems may generate unacceptably high welfare scores. The monitoring systems could fail to match basic intuitions in society and the scientific community. In order to avoid this problem, available knowledge, eg about animal motivation derived from consumer demand studies and knowledge about the natural behaviour of the animals, should be used explicitly in welfare assessment. This requires making welfare inferences from knowledge about the relationships between environment-based and animal-based parameters using standard operating procedures. The on-farm measurement of animal-based parameters may be regarded as the measurement of critical control points, which must be compared and reconciled with predictions based on available scientific knowledge. For this purpose the formalisation of welfare assessment should be developed further.
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