The livestock export industry, government and community all agree on the need to measure animal welfare on livestock ships.
Following a long-running project to identify important considerations for monitoring and collection of animal welfare indicator data, the Shipboard Animal Welfare Surveillance (SAWS) Committee was established in 2020 by the Livestock Export Program (LEP) to fast-track the adoption of those indicators.
The Committee comprised animal welfare experts, veterinary epidemiologists, statistical experts, industry participants and those with practical knowledge of the on-board environment.
The project developed and refined measurements, data collection and analysis processes into industry protocols that could be practically and immediately applied on ships to demonstrate the welfare status of cattle and sheep being exported by sea.
The work fed into a review of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL), and most elements in the protocols have been included in the ASEL 3.0 reporting standards. As a result, the animal welfare indicators have largely been adopted by industry.
The role of the SAWS Committee was to advise the livestock export industry on relevant animal welfare indicators and their collection methods to address regulatory reporting requirements.
The SAWS Committee aimed to develop an agreed list of measures that could be practically and immediately applied on livestock export ships to demonstrate the welfare status of animals exported.
The comprehensive SAWS report provides extensive detail on each indicator, grouped by the welfare principles of good feeding, good housing, appropriate behaviour, and good health.
Details include the type of indicator, the level at which measurement occurs, the frequency of measurement, the research justification and the measurement process.
By designing well-structured and viable animal welfare indicator protocols, the SAWS project will standardise data collection on ships and increase the value of the data gathered by Australian Government Accredited Veterinarians and LiveCorp Accredited Stockpersons to reduce inconsistencies.
In the instance of an investigation into an adverse animal welfare event, this enables systematic analyses and creates a body of evidence of satisfactory animal welfare outcomes on livestock voyages.
Data collected through LIVEXCollect will help to inform industry and the regulator of the validity and usefulness of the animal welfare measures, ahead of a review of ASEL in 2022.
The SAWS Committee recommends:
All indicator data should be stored in the LIVEXCollect database. LIVEXCollect should continue to be refined to incorporate a mobile application.
Data should be collected on a limited number of indicators twice per day: sailing conditions, plus panting, general demeanour and the posture of animals from pre-selected pens or decks, rather than every deck once per day.
For welfare indicators to be of substantial use for industry, there should be a standardisation of livestock classes and more detailed class information is required than the ASEL 3.0 categories. This will enable industry to more easily compare data collected across shipments.
Training is important for the further development of animal welfare indicators, to increase comparability in measurements between operators monitoring the indicators (inter-rater repeatability), and repeatability by the same operator (intra-rater repeatability).