Veterinarian and with a doctorate in animal behavior (ethology) from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Antonio Dalmau has been involved for almost two decades in the development of systems for ensure the physical and emotional well-being of animals on farms poultry, dairy and beef cattle through the Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentàries, public institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya.
Already in the period 2004 to 2009 it was one of the 300 European researchers who participated in the European Union Welfair Quality project, focused on redefining the concept of animal welfare on farms. The project was endowed with 7 million euros and from it came a standard for animal welfare certification to be applied in farms in any of the member countries.
In this interview Dalmau explains why it is important that these types of certifications exist, as well as the reason why consumers should be aware of their existence and get used to demanding them in their food of animal origin.
What is the Welfair label?
To understand this, we must go back to the year 2009, when Welfair Quality achieves the redefinition of the concept of animal welfare, which considers not the physical parameters, such as stabling space, food, etc., but others related to emotional well-being. Suddenly it is not a question of quantifying the size of the facilities or the quality of the feed, but everything that derives from a good comprehensive treatment and which is reflected in the happiness of the animals.
There is a concept within Welfair Quality, and of course Welfair, which is to “have a life worth living”. It is obvious that the animal is being exploited and that in many cases it will end up euthanized, but throughout its life it is about ensuring that it has been worth it. This is the seal; It seems that it is little, but it implies many things and in many directions.
In what phase of implementation are we in Spain?
In Spain we have created from IRTA, in conjunction with its Basque counterpart NEIKEN, the Welfair seal, which is a direct implementation of two protocols: on the one hand, Welfair Quality, which measures the welfare of dairy and beef cattle, chickens and hens. , pig and sheep. And on the other AWIN, a later protocol that works for other species such as turkeys, ducks or rabbits.
Currently the Welfair seal has reached its presence in 4,000 supermarkets in Spain, where consumers can buy animal products with an animal welfare guarantee according to the protocol that we have designed and that the main certification companies grant to the audited farms.
In reality, this figure is insufficient if we compare it with other countries such as the United Kingdom, but it shows a trend towards awareness of animal welfare throughout the chain, from producer to consumer through large distributors.
What would be the optimum?
The optimum would be that all distributors, large and small, require the farms that supply the products, the possession of Welfair, as certified guarantee that the animals have had or have “a life that deserves to be lived”. This is not easy for many reasons, from social awareness to economic cost, since certification is not cheap because it implies having auditors who observe animal behavior and also means, to maintain the seal year after year, hiring an employee almost exclusive to guarantee “the happiness of the animals”.
And I say happiness because it is proven that animals experience positive feelings, not just negative ones of fear, stress, etc., and therefore we must increase these feelings as much as possible during their life. Later, in other phases, the ideal would be to be able to refine this seal to evaluate different levels of animal welfare.
But the seal puts all the pressure on the producer, when the causes of the lack of animal welfare are often the low margins that they obtain because of the prices offered by the large distributors.
It is true that the farmer is the one who is most pressured, but the seal at the same time can serve as a weapon to assert himself both in front of the consumer and in front of the dealer. At the end of the day, it is the consumer who pressures the supermarket to offer guaranteed products, and it is forced to look for producers with the seal, which are not so many.
Thus, when you have the seal you differentiate yourself from the rest and you can demand a higher margin for your product. You also make yourself visible to the consumer, who no longer sees a chicken or lamb ribs wrapped in plastic, but a producer who treats his animals well.
In other words, it is a way of fighting against this capitalism of pulling prices in some large stores …
Undoubtedly, the ideal would be that the farmers, who now border on mere subsistence, get a margin of pressure on the distributor to change their model and value the products of the farm seeing the animals for what they are and not just kilos of meat . For this, the participation of the consumer as an actor of pressure by demanding the Welfair seal is very important.
Being graphic: is the stamp a way of guaranteeing that images like that of pigs drowning in an Aragonese farm due to the flooding of the Ebro will disappear? In that case it was said that they would not help themselves because it was cheaper for the Administration to remove them dead …
East case you tell me It is very visual of what this vision of the farm implies as a meat factory without more, where neither the distributor values the producer’s merchandise nor does he see the pigs as pigs, that is, animals with feelings, but as an investment to be profitable . If the Welfair seal is imposed, we will have a guarantee that this type of situation will be eradicated, and for this the will of the consumer is crucial.
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