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Animal welfare: an important topic

December 4, 2018

In the livestock industry, animal welfare is a widely discussed topic. Multiple schemes have been created to address the strong opinions held by some consumers regarding the treatment of the various terrestrial animals we produce for consumption. 

By Janneke Aelen 

As the aquaculture industry expands rapidly and scientific knowledge about many of the animals involved evolves, it only makes sense that fish welfare has also become a similarly important issue. While the many debates about fish welfare are in their infancy, it is increasingly clear that it is something that will need to be defined and assessed. For this reason, I joined the ASC’s Standards & Science team in October to look at this important issue in more detail.

Although I have a background in the livestock industry, the aquaculture industry— and especially the topic of fish welfare— has always fascinated me. I studied Animal Sciences in Wageningen, specializing in animal welfare in sustainable animal production systems. During my MSc thesis I studied the behaviour of European eel in recirculation systems, which I compared to physiological parameters in order to assess their welfare under different treatments. In my previous job I worked at the R&D department of a big supplier of the livestock industry where I worked on topics related to animal health. Here I conducted field experiments at farms which gave me the opportunity to translate the issues farmers face into practical solutions. 

Of course, improving the welfare of animals in production systems is a huge motivation for me. However, I also enjoy the other challenges that are linked to this subject. Sustainability includes not just environmental and social aspects, but also outcomes for the health and well-being of the stock, so improving animal welfare shouldn’t result in a trade-off on environmental output or profitability of the famer. Personally, I fully believe that these three aspects of sustainability can go hand in hand, in fact they will often be beneficial to one another. Evidence of this can be found in the ASC standards themselves – many of the requirements that are already included as environmental issues also protect animal welfare. The prohibition against using antibiotics as a preventative measure, for example, is not only important to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance. It also encourages farms to prevent disease and instead promote fish health in a more appropriate way, with accompanying benefits for wish welfare. 

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