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Sustainability, animal welfare, environmental and climate concerns and awareness of social responsibility towards the community have increased consumers interest in knowing how, where and by whom food is produced and handled on its way from the farm to the table. This constitutes a business opportunity for farmers as a growing number of consumers want to buy food, produced locally or regionally directly or under farm certification schemes whereby acceptable animal welfare conditions play often an important role. Farming systems for dairy cows, including housing and management conditions, are important factors affecting their health and other aspects of their welfare, partly through housing and equipment and partly through management and handling practices.
The panel on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (AHAW) is a scientific advice on all aspects of animal diseases and welfare of food producing-animals during breeding, rearing, transportation and slaughter. Analysis of the impact that the conditions and treatment of animals can have on both animal and human health. Animal welfare is an important part of EFSA’s remit. The safety of the food chain is indirectly affected by the welfare of animals, particularly those farmed for food production, due to the close links between animal welfare, animal health and food-borne diseases [1,2].
The AHAW Panel has published five scientific opinions and a scientific report on the overall effects of the most relevant farming systems on the welfare of dairy cows and related diseases, assessing the potential impacts of housing, feeding, management and genetic selection . Due to the wealth of data, the experts subdivided the risk assessments into four areas:
a. Metabolic and reproductive disorders.
b. Udder disorders.
c. Leg and locomotion problems.
d. Behavioural disorders, fear and pain.
Following a request from the European Commission, the AHAW Panel was asked to deliver the first scientific opinion on the welfare of dairy cows, in july 2009 considering whether current farming and husbandry systems comply with the requirements
of and welfare of dairy cows from the pathological, zootechnical, physiological and behavioural points of view [4-6]. Later in January 2012 published a new scientific report on welfare in dairy cows, which was one of the most important to increase the monitoring of welfare in the farms: the use of animal-based measures to assess welfare of dairy cows. Other international organisations have also issued recommendations and guidelines concerning animal welfare, such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Council of Europe. The EU is a signatory to the European Convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, adopted by the Council of Europe .
The study of useful variables for evaluating animal welfare in dairy herds has increased considerably in the last years, and a number of indicators are now available which are well documented for being included in animal welfare protocols. However, the protocols that have been proposed and applied until now are costly and difficult to implement, and are starting to be evaluated. There is consensus in the reliability of measurements based directly on the animal as useful indicators, such as body condition, foot diseases, mastitis and other more general indicators, such as infertility and mortality rates obtained from records of dairy farms that can be studied under our production conditions .
In order to identify appropriate indicators which address the most important animal welfare problems known from practice, its very important have selected indicators for assessing animal welfare with regard to reliability, validity and practicability. In
animal welfare legislation as well as agricultural practice, mainly
resource- and management-based animal welfare indicators have
been used so far. These describe the conditions, e. g. the space
available and the management, which are expected to safeguard
animal welfare. However, such resource- and managementbased
indicators only allow indirect conclusions to be drawn
on how well the animals may fare under these conditions. With
the animal-based indicators required in the self-assessment
system, on the other hand, the behaviour/health of the animals
is recorded directly, so that direct conclusions about their welfare
can be drawn. EFSA assessed the welfare risks related to the most
commonly used and specialised dairy cows farming systems,
integrating the use of animal-based measures to assess their
consequences (Table 1).
The livestock keeper should benefit from the on-farm selfassessment.
To be able to use the results effectively for planning
and implementing improvement measures, the single indicators
should not just be assessed, but instead be integrated into more
comprehensive management aids. The sets of indicators should
therefore also be applied as a whole as far as possible, as with
each missing indicator, the informative content is reduced and
at the same time the risk increases that animal welfare problems
are not recognised. The use of behavioral indicators, health and
management in the evaluation of welfare in cows milk is a very
valuable tool, considering the difficulty of using physiological and
immunological indicators, or drawbacks, such as costs.