EFSA highlights dairy cow welfare needs

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Milk, Cattle

The genetic selection of dairy cows to increase milk yields needs to be accompanied by appropriate measures to ensure the welfare of the animals, according to a recent opinion published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The recommendations by EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) have implications beyond dairy farming practices, as they come at a time of increased consumer interest in the way the products are sourced and produced.

Genetic selection of dairy cows has been used for over thirty years to increase milk yields. However, EFSA’s panel found that following this practice long-term has also led to the change of the body shape of cows, and increased their overall size.

Bigger cows – more space

In a series of scientific opinions on dairy cow welfare published last week, EFSA highlighted the importance of adjusting farming practices in light of these changes. Specifically, cattle need to be allocated enough space when feeding, resting and walking, said the group.

In addition, the panel found a correlation between genetic selection and the incidence of lameness, mastitis, reproductive and metabolic disorders in dairy cows. Consequently, it recommended that the genetic selection of dairy cows should address their resistance to these conditions, as well as improve their fertility, health and longevity.

To access EFSA’s scientific opinions, click here​.

Purchasing power

Animal welfare is more than ever before a priority to consumers, who are becoming increasingly active in supporting – or condemning – farming or production practices with their purchasing power.

Many consumers opt for ‘ethically-sourced’ animal-derived products. Others believe that turning to organics is the solution.

Is organic the answer?

However, organic farming often poses similar animal welfare problems. A study funded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently underway in the United States to assess the impacts of organic farming on the health of livestock.

Professor Pamela Ruegg of the University of Wisconsin will head the research, which forms part of a USDA focus on wider organic production, to identify key areas related to cattle management and livestock health.

Ruegg says that the entire organic dairy industry is cooperating with the research, which is currently focused solely on farm level factors and not on the process side of the industry.

“The most important focus is to identify practices that help farmers optimise animal health and well being,”​ she states. “Control of mastitis, production of high quality milk and management practices that contribute to enhanced animal well being are all of interest to us.”

As part of its research remit, the study reflects growing interest into how not using antibiotics and hormones may impact on the welfare of livestock.

Related topics: Regulation & Safety

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