Stronger focus needed on animal welfare metrics

Ignoring farm animal welfare when you measure food sustainability is like forgetting the eggs and flour when you bake a Victoria Sponge.

The more intensive animal farming becomes, the less sustainable it is. You simply can’t achieve environmental progress while continuing to keep farm animals in systems that rely heavily on high protein feeds produced in arable monocultures, on high levels of fossil fuel and water use, and on routine medications often including human-critical antibiotics.

In a nutshell, the way we rear farm animals affects the state of nature – the climate, soils, water and air we all need to survive and thrive.

Farm animal welfare matters because:

  • In a morally progressive society we should ensure the animals we rear for food live a good life.
  • Good welfare is a critical indicator of environmental progress.
  • Welfare metrics will boost the overall credibility of the Food Sustainability Index.

Tomorrow the 2018 Food Sustainability Index (FSI) will be published. The FSI, a global index developed by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition and the Economist Intelligence Unit, is important because it provides a substantial analysis of food sustainability.  It measures over eighty indicators, which cover public health, food waste, and social and environmental dimensions and enables comparison between nations.

Sadly however, metrics measuring farm animal welfare (FAW) account for less than 1% of the final score. More eggs and flour are required.

The team behind the Food Sustainability Index has acknowledged that more FAW indicators are needed. But because getting reliable, globally comparable FAW metrics is a challenge, we know there won’t be new FAW metrics in the 2018 edition of the FSI – but we are determined that new FAW metrics will be identified, researched and delivered for next year’s index.

Throughout 2018 we have worked closely with experts from the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Forum (which includes Compassion in World Farming, RSPCA, and World Animal Protection) to identify new globally robust and repeatable FAW metrics.

Through this work we hope that the number of FAW indicators, and their weighting, will grow in future editions of the FSI. This will help ensure that the international focus on farm animal welfare will be brought more closely in line with other key sustainability elements, such as food loss, water impact, agricultural emissions and national diet.

Our top four priority metrics

1. Legal protection of farm animal welfare

2. Existence of robust mechanisms to enforce national FAW laws

3. Proportion of animals kept in more extensive farm systems that DO allow natural behaviours

4. Presence (and scope) of dedicated higher farm animal welfare assurance schemes

Our additional priority options

  • Proportion of food animals kept in cages or other intensive systems
  • Existence of method of production food labelling
  • Proportion of higher welfare breeds
  • Quality of aquaculture legislation
  • Proportion of farm animals with mutilations
  • Livestock exported live for slaughter and further fattening

Read a detailed explanation of our priority metrics and recommendations here