The livestock export industry has come up with a standardised way to collect animal welfare data on its ships – a first for any livestock industry in Australia – and will use it to meet new reporting requirements.
The latest version of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL 3.0), which came into effect on 1 November 2020, includes the need for shipboard stock handlers to record significantly more observations than previously regarding the welfare of the animals.
A working group was set up earlier this year to formalise the way data was collected, to ensure it was meaningful and could be compared later across different voyages. It included animal welfare experts, veterinary epidemiologists, statistical experts, industry participants and those with practical knowledge of the on-board environment.
Rather than concentrating on what needed to be measured, the group used the recommendations guiding the development of the new standards and focussed on the how. This involved specifying the timing of animal welfare indicator measurements, the scoring systems to be used, providing basic instructions and, where possible, supplementing these instructions with photographs and videos.
Some of the work has already been reflected in the new ASEL 3.0 scoring systems. Other parts have been put into action through LIVEXCollect, a data collection system developed by LiveCorp which has become the approved reporting tool for ASEL 3.0. It uses programmed Excel spreadsheets with advanced functionality to standardise the data recorded, including automatic calculations and drop-downs using different scoring systems.
A final report is due before the end of the year, once the findings can be updated to reflect the last-minute changes to ASEL 3.0 reporting requirements. Work will also be done on ways to automate collection where possible, to strengthen the quality and independence of the data.
The livestock export industry, its regulator and the community all agree on the need for the collection of meaningful indicators of animal welfare. However, the only way to extract maximum value from that information is to ensure the quality of the data, and the working group’s recommendations will help to make that happen.