The big picture: synergies and trade-offs between animal welfare and other sustainability issues

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstractAcademic


Sustainable development of livestock systems involves innovations and the adaptation of these systems in a manner that not only meets the needs of current human generation, but also the potential needs and aspirations of future generations. Innovations can be for example novel feeding practices, breeding strategies or farm technologies and designs. To prevent unforeseen consequences, innovations should be studied in a broad context with an integrated research approach that must combine three key themes for livestock systems: animal welfare, environmental impact (e.g. use of resources and emissions to air, water or soil) and profitability (e.g. farm income). With such an integrated analysis synergies and trade-offs can be identified. For about ten years now, our team has worked on projects that aim to improve animal welfare and reduce the environmental impact of livestock systems while ensuring economic viability. We studied, for example, trade-offs between animal welfare and the environment in organic and conventional pig production and found that land use and contribution to climate change related to feed showed to be higher (83% resp. 36%) in organic pig production, while welfare indicators gave a variable picture. Different production systems for layer hens were compared for various sustainability issues and we found that systems with a potential better welfare performed economically better but had higher greenhouse gas emissions, land occupation and acidification potentials. We also did an integrated analysis of veal diets to improve calf welfare, while taken into account environmental and economic consequences and found that a diet containing more roughage improved welfare, was economically attractive and neutral for the environment. A study in dairy cows showed that diseases after calving increase the contribution to climate change with 3.1% at cow level and the economic costs with €111 cow-1 y-1. These examples show that for a sustainable development of livestock systems it is not enough to focus on one theme at a time. One challenge to this type of study is to collect data for animal welfare, environmental and economic indicators from the same farm at the same point in time. Nevertheless, this is the best way for identifying synergies and trade-offs and is therefore essential if research is to significantly contribute to sustainable development of livestock systems in the future. Describing and analysing livestock systems based on more than one theme of sustainability creates complex, but more complete pictures. It is critical that researchers in animal welfare also consider the impact of innovations on environmental and economic performance if these innovations are to be long-lasting.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 50th Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2016
Event50th Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology - Edinburg, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Jul 201615 Jul 2016


Conference50th Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology
CountryUnited Kingdom

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