Towards the design of tools to provide information of pigs and dairy cows welfare to consumers and producers

With the aim to design market-based solutions for a better understanding of animal welfare and associated animal behaviour in the dairy cow and pig production, ClearFarm organized on May and June online workshops with key stakeholders and partners of the ClearFarm project. The workshops followed a Design Thinking approach to stepwise develop blueprint solutions based on Precision Livestock Farming, in which the consumer can easily recognise a welfare assessment and, at the same time, deliver further and more complex information for expert targets, such as retailers, intermediaries, policy makers, animal welfare organisations, sensors technology experts, academics (animal science and welfare), marketing and packaging experts, and farmers.

The methodology to reach the solutions was initially planned in two co-creation workshops, one in Barcelona (focus on dairy cows) and one in Wageningen (focus on pigs). Unfortunately, given the COVID-19 crisis and the associated restrictions, the methodology had to be adapted. Consequently, a total of 18 online workshop sessions were conducted – one technical trial, one introductory workshop session, ten working groups and one plenary meeting with five breakout sessions. In these online workshop sessions, seven challenges were discussed: (1) the integration of measurable indicators and standards, (2) innovative technology, (3) the value propositions towards consumers, (4) the decision-making in the production chain and in policy, (5) the connection to animal welfare organizations, (6) the data management and protection and (7) the unintended impact of the system itself.

The results of the online workshop discussions provided detailed information about how the ClearFarm system can support stakeholders of the value chain, existing and innovative business models and the society at large.

Regarding the indicators and standards, parameters considered as important were related to the animals’ health status, the animals’ behaviour, the mental state, the interactions with humans and the assessment during stunning. In addition, environmental conditions were detected as an important measure to ensure animal welfare during the whole production chain in pigs and cows.

The integration of innovative technology in the production was another important factor discussed. Some conclusions were that technological devices should be adapted for each farm for a good implementation of the ClearFarm system. Moreover, sensors shall be non-invasive for the animals, humans and the environment, only used for a specific and relevant purpose, shall be supported by a digital infrastructure and complemented by triggered alerts based on innovative or existing technologies. Algorithms should provide balanced information of positives and negatives animal welfare problems and the way the information is provided to the stakeholders.

Within the market domain, animal welfare can be improved if consumers pay for the increase in costs related to the production with higher welfare levels, although it was generally assumed that ClearFarm solutions will reduce production costs in the long term. The ClearFarm should therefore be market-based and valuable for consumers. The discussion group agreed that the system can improve traditional animal welfare labels by providing an innovative, interactive information source or platform, making the system more credible transparent and trustworthy. ClearFarm should provide an app in which consumers can for example check animal, based on their individual preferences.

The ClearFarm platform will not only inform consumers, it can also assist and support the decision-making processes in the production chain and in policy. Precision Livestock Farming provides real-time data at permanent level and information, that will allow to monitor animals and make sure that a fast reaction will occur to solve specific animal welfare problems. This will allow to continuously evaluate and reduce the time lag from observation to decision-making.

Animal-welfare organizations represent a particularly relevant category to the ClearFarm system, because they represent the interests of the animals. The aim of another online workshop was to explore how PLF can connect these organisations in the pig and dairy cow production. The conclusion was that the ClearFarm system should be owned by a new independent organisation that is responsible for the collection, processing and distribution of the data, in other words, it should be an intermediary between data providers and data users. The organisation is most likely to be public and have to consider future EU initiatives and EU AW (labelling) approaches, whilst experience supervision from competent authorities, when requested or desired.

The aims to provide animal welfare information to decision-makers within and surrounding the production chains of animal-based products comes also with challenges of data management and protection. Transformation of the raw data into information appears to be essential because the presentation of raw data to increase the transparency of the value chain seems to be difficult and not very useful. Therefore, the ClearFarm platform should transform raw data into specific information for each stakeholder, whilst securely store the data, make them accessible and improve the credibility.

Finally, one workshop explored the unintended impact of the ClearFarm system on the value chains and their surroundings. The definition of how unintended consequences could be measured, in order to be able to address them properly, were discussed. The platform can drive the decisions and the development of the system towards a direction, which is not foreseen or not preferred. The system was also considered to potentially be able to promote intensive farming and have potential impacts on market access.

The insights of the workshops provide guidance to the decisions that need to be taken in the next steps of the ClearFarm project to develop a system relevant for the whole production chain of pigs and dairy cows.