A working group of industry and animal welfare representatives has recommended ways that standardised animal welfare surveillance reporting may be incorporated into the new shipboard reporting requirements, to be implemented by the livestock export industry in November.
An animal welfare surveillance system is being developed for the livestock export industry to use on cattle and sheep voyages.
It will make better use of the current observations and reporting on livestock carriers, to identify risks to animal welfare and help to plan management strategies to avoid poor outcomes. It applies industry knowledge along with the latest developments and practical findings, from an ongoing Murdoch University animal welfare indicators project.
The project is being funded by the Livestock Export Program (LEP), co-funded by LiveCorp and Meat & Livestock Australia, and will also meet regulatory requirements of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL).
The standardised pen-side measurement and recording system will be a first for any livestock industry sector in Australia.
Stock handlers carry out pen-side inspections on a daily basis during the preparation of livestock for export and on the ships. However, to date there has been minimal recording of their observations.
The proposed system for reporting of these observations will ensure standardised, consistent and accurate industry-relevant data is collected in a way that is easily accessible and meaningful, across the whole of industry and to the regulator.
This will not only improve welfare outcomes in practice, but also provide the opportunity to demonstrate the many ongoing improvements being made within the industry.
Standardising the format of reporting will ensure everybody is using the same terminology, assessment methods and scoring systems, so the data can be compared between voyages.
This will enable future industry decisions to be based on comprehensive and practical, real life data – rather than relying on assumptions based on scientific research in experimental conditions.
Previous reporting was mostly focused on what the environment was like on board the vessel and what management strategies were used for the livestock.
However, the new reporting will have more information on the animals themselves, such as how the sheep and cattle are adapting to their pen environment.
Scoring systems have been developed for the animal observations, such as panting score measurements, and describing feeding behaviour and general demeanour.
Information on environmental conditions, such as describing the efficiency of ventilation and watering systems on board vessels, will also be standardised under the proposed reporting format.
The implementation of such a comprehensive animal welfare monitoring protocol, is something that no Australian agricultural industry has achieved to date.