Efficiency (animals)


Continuing research on design of production facilities

A significant amount of helpful research has already been undertaken on farm design to support animal welfare.  Farmers building new facilities now have access to many new layouts that facilitate improved living and feeding conditions while optimizing production in the new environment.  The more challenging question is how to convert existing conventional facilities to ones more conducive to welfare, and at as low a transition cost as possible. Some literature shows that an affordable transition from conventional to animal welfare designs, along with other factors, can help speed up the transition process for an industry (cf. Saatkamp et al., 2019 on the rapid transition in the Dutch broiler industry).

The transition challenges across different animal production systems are not all equivalent.  Beef cattle are likely the easiest if an operation has sufficient area for pasture and hay production.  Intensive hog operations are likely the most difficult, made more challenging by the highly variable economic conditions in the industry.

Ideally, farm and barn transition designs allow for multiple pathways, with different interim measures, to accommodate the realities of different farm operations.  Given the focus on this site on sustainable systems, the transition designs should also allow for integration with other sustainability parameters.

Improving the standards, verification, and funding

This discussion is linked to Goal 5 Sustainable Food, Efficiency.  The standards need to be improved and there have to be verification systems, with inspection.  MacRae has written many production standards and concludes:

  • a points based system is the most desirable, one that gives more points for increasingly significant changes and has a mix of management changes that allow farmers to tailor to their operations
  • a points-based system is also easier for inspectors to interpret and they can provide partial points for certain practices
  • to be approved, a points threshold must be passed, typically 75% of total points available
  • continuous improvement is critical because the art is to balance progress with viability; as the standard becomes more commonly used and individual farms have more experience with it, more points can be accumulated, and management practices in the standard can be made more rigorous
  • a points - based system also helps with program wide data analysis and use of different program metrics

It makes sense for third party standards, rather than government ones, to be used.  But governments must require that they be stronger and use grant funding to assure that.  As discussed under Framing Solutions, the standards must reflect more of Traditions 2 and 3, then Tradition 1 which is the dominant thinking in NFACC standards.  The strategy is create a private - public hybrid approach to standards, or a co-governance model as was used in New Zealand when improving their animal welfare regime (cf. Sankoff, 2019).  The state would have to set out the inspection and certification procedures, much as it has done for the organic regulations, although these need not be as onerous. However, they would need to be stronger than an industry self-governing system, as NFACC has proposed for its standards (Sankoff, 2019). A Participatory Guarantee approach to authenticate producer compliance might occupy a space between pure self-regulation and regulatory reference.  One reason why governments must mandate standards and compliance procedures is that mainstream farm and commodity groups have largely been unwilling to create programs that would differentiate their members on the basis of sustainable management practices, which has retarded movement in the right direction.

Changes to food labels

Food label changes are required to help consumers identify producers following approved standards. As discussed under Goal 1, Changing Consumer Information Systems, Efficiency, Promoting Sustainability, the current regulation of animal welfare terms is incomplete, not systematic, weak and ultimately not helpful.  Most of the current rules relate to inputs that can be part of  a system that preferences animal welfare, but not comprehensive integrated systems themselves (CFIA Food Labelling for Industry).  The CFIA has in the past put forth  discussion documents on regulating welfare terms that have yet to produce a robust system, part of the problem being the contestation regarding standards.

Once standards have been improved and verification procedures established, rather than a full labelling and marketing program, at this stage it makes sense for CFIA to permit a single claim on packages from producers and processors verified to be following a government recognized standard.  A sentence something like the following could be permitted: "This food is produced from a government - approved standard that promotes animal welfare".

Processors with multiple product lines under different management regimes would have to have verified audit trails to use the claim.  Multi-ingredent products would not be possible under such a system.