How Far Are We From Data-Driven and Animal-Based Welfare Assessment? A Critical Analysis of European Quality Schemes

Anna H. Stygar*, Caspar Krampe, Pol Llonch, Jarkko K. Niemi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Within the European Union, there is no harmonization of farm animal welfare quality schemes for meat and dairy products. Instead, there are several industry-driven initiatives and voluntary schemes that seek to provide information on animal welfare for attentive consumers. This study had two aims. First, we quantified how selected industry-wide quality schemes cover the welfare of pigs and dairy cattle on farms by comparing the evaluation criteria selected by schemes with the animal-, resource- and management-based measures defined in the Welfare Quality protocol (WQ®). Second, we identified how these quality schemes use the data generated along the value chain (sensors, breeding, production, and health recordings) for animal welfare assessments. A total of 12 quality schemes, paying attention to animal welfare but not necessarily limited to welfare, were selected for the analysis. The schemes originated from eight European countries: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Spain. Among the studied quality schemes, we have identified 19 standards for certification: nine for dairy and 10 for pig production. Most of the analyzed standards were comprehensive in welfare assessment. In total, 15 out of 19 standards corresponded to WQ® in more than 70%. However, this high correspondence was obtained when allowing for different information sources (environment instead of animal) than defined in WQ®. Compared to WQ®, the investigated schemes were lagging in terms of the number of measures evaluated based on the animals, with only five standards, out of 19, using predominantly animal-based measures. The quality schemes mostly applied resource-based instead of animal-based measures while assessing good health and appropriate behavior. The utilization of data generated along the value chain by the quality schemes remains insignificant as only one quality scheme allowed the direct application of sensor technologies for providing information on animal welfare. Nevertheless, several schemes used data from farm recording systems, mostly on animal health. The quality schemes rely mostly on resource-based indicators taken during inspection visits, which reduce the relevance of the welfare assessment. Our results suggest that the quality schemes could be enhanced in terms of data collection by the broader utilization of data generated along the value chain.
Original languageEnglish
Article number874260
JournalFrontiers in Animal Science
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'How Far Are We From Data-Driven and Animal-Based Welfare Assessment? A Critical Analysis of European Quality Schemes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this