WAITROSE has launched an app designed to help the retailer assess the “emotional wellbeing” of farmed animals in its supply chain.
The retailer described the move as an “evolution of farm animal welfare”.
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It has been developed by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and will now be rolled out across the supermarket’s supply chain under a two-year development trial.
Both broilers and laying hens will be assessed using the app.
The app has been designed to be practical and easy to use on farm, according to the SRUC’s Francoise Wemelsfelder, who created it using the principals of “Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA)”.
Animal welfare inspectors will use the app to record different expressive qualities of behaviour, such as being relaxed, tense, playful or anxious.
These behaviours are indicative of an animal’s emotional body language and possible signs of general wellbeing.
That data is then integrated into data from other farms. It is that larger pattern that will be used to assess quality of life.
Prof Wemelsfelder said: “Good physical health is vital for good welfare but there is clear consensus among the scientific animal welfare community that factors such as enjoyment, contentment and positive excitement play an equally vital role in ensuring that an animal has a good life.
“QBA not only provides a way to assess these factors, it also opens up the conversation about what positive emotional wellbeing for an animal truly looks like.
“Because we believe fundamentally that animals are not simply production systems to be managed.
“They are sentient creatures that must be cared for.
“While this remains very much in development, the fact that the app will be trialled and developed at scale with a leading supermarket chain is an incredibly significant and positive step for the industry.
James Bailey, executive director at Waitrose, added: “This is a huge development for the industry as it is the first time any retailer has explored welfare measures based on the concept of an animal’s freedom to express positive emotions.
“In some countries, farm animals continue to be looked upon as food production systems that need to be managed.
“This is wrong, and for the UK to continue its position as a leader in farming standards, it’s critical that we recognise farm animals as sentient creatures capable of experiencing a range of emotions and positive experiences.
“By acknowledging this, working hard to understand what those positive emotional expressions are and how they can be unlocked, we can lead the industry into a new and more confident era of farm animal welfare.”