“…Animal Welfare reduces the need for labor, causes less damage to animals, there are fewer accidents…”
Sergio Raposo de Medeiros is a researcher at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation – Embrapa and a specialist in animal nutrition. Raposo is an agronomist, M.Sc. and Ph.D. from the “Luiz de Queiroz” Higher School of Agriculture.
AgriBrasilis – How important is Animal Welfare in beef cattle farming?
Sergio Raposo – Animal Welfare practices have several advantages:
1) Since work with animals is carried out taking into account their behavior, Animal Welfare makes the work flow better, with fewer interruptions, allowing for the handling of animals to be finished faster, for example;
2) Interruptions often occur due to accidents with animals or workers, a situation that rational management/handling, one of the key points of Animal Welfare, makes less frequent;
3) The incorporation of Animal Welfare also has the potential to improve animal performance, as less energy is wasted for activities that are not linked to production. It is no coincidence that one of the desirable characteristics in animal breeding is to have tamer animals, which is related to greater feed efficiency.
In short, Animal Welfare reduces the need for labor, and causes less damage to animals. Also, fewer work accidents occur, and there is a greater chance for animals to express their maximum productive potential.
AgriBrasilis – Is Animal Welfare the main demand from consumers today? And what is the livestock farmer’s perception?
Sergio Raposo – Regarding consumer demands, in general, the main one is that the price should be affordable. The demand for Animal Welfare is a growing concern, but it tends to occur more among consumers when food is less of a burden on their budget.
Even though Animal Welfare is not the biggest concern for consumers, there is at least one study that shows that, if the consumer is aware that production involves animal suffering, this would be enough for them to stop buying a certain product.
Animal Welfare has been adopted by livestock farmers because there is an increase in society’s awareness about the issue. The benefits of adopting Animal Welfare practices are quickly observed and the increase in their adoption ends up being almost natural for those who are exposed to good examples in the press or those that visit a farm that adopts the practices, for example.
“Precision livestock farming can have a major impact on sustainability by allowing decision-making in real time”
AgriBrasilis – Do Animal Welfare practices guarantee better quality meat and greater feed efficiency for cattle?
Sergio Raposo – Potentially, yes. Greater feed efficiency occurs for the already explained reason that there is less diversion of energy to other functions. In the case of meat quality, animals managed under Animal Welfare concepts can maintain higher glycogen levels at the time of slaughter and these sugars are important for reducing the pH of the carcass, necessary for the meat maturation processes to happen properly.
AgriBrasilis – How can precision or digital livestock farming contribute to Animal Welfare and sustainability?
Sergio Raposo – Precision livestock farming can have a major impact on sustainability by allowing decision-making in real time and even at the individual level, for example, when removing an animal from confinement that is not gaining weight or discovering that a certain animal is sick before the first symptoms.
In the case of Animal Welfare, precision livestock farming can indicate a lack of water or food, allowing this situation to be quickly corrected, as sensors can warn as soon as the problem occurs, preventing animal suffering. An even more important aspect, which is the target of research, is to create processes that use these sensors to certify that animals are produced within the precepts of Animal Welfare. For example, the sensors can collect evidence that there was always water available for animals or that their exposure to temperatures outside the thermal comfort zone occurred below a certain critical limit.
AgriBrasilis – What does it mean to say that, of every 100 kg of beef, 98 kg are produced from pasture?
Sergio Raposo – Almost all Brazilian beef production is based on pastures. This is the proportion of meat produced from pastures in the country, considering that only 18% of animals slaughtered come from confinements and that the average age at slaughter is around 36 months.
This is one of the reasons why Brazil has been the largest meat exporter in the world since 2003, and the meat is very clean and safe, with reports of non-compliance rarely occurring, even with exports to more than 150 countries. This is also a factor for Animal Welfare, since the animals are, for the most part, and for most of the time, raised in a situation closer to the natural habitat in which they evolved as a species.
AgriBrasilis – Is it possible to produce more beef with lower methane emissions? Why?
Sergio Raposo – It is possible, and for several reasons. Firstly, the better the animals’ diet, the lower the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per kg of food ingested. As performance is better, emissions should be reduced per kg of final product (kg of GHG/kg of calf or kg of GHG/kg of meat).
Furthermore, with greater production per animal, a smaller herd is possible to produce the same amount of meat. It is also possible to reduce general emissions from livestock farming, reducing animals that lose weight during drought, preventing heifers from delaying reproduction, and reducing the number of empty cows by increasing the fertility rate, for example.
AgriBrasilis – Do more intensified production systems produce less methane per kg of meat produced?
Sergio Raposo – In general, this is the trend, but each case must be evaluated individually. There are very intensified systems that, considering the emissions associated with fertilization, irrigation energy, etc., can have a higher emission intensity (kg of GHG/kg of meat) than intermediate intensification systems.
AgriBrasilis – What is the level of Animal Welfare practices adopted by the industry?
Sergio Raposo – I don’t have exact information about this, but our meatpacking industry is highly technical, particularly in the case of the large companies, which slaughter most of the animals. Our industry is also well regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture, with good standards and supervision. Furthermore, it is of economic interest to provide comfort to animals before slaughter (see the case I mentioned about the pH of meat, for example).