Scottish college to lead global welfare project

The Scottish Agricultural College is leading a new, four-year, international animal welfare research programme. The project will involve 11 different institutions from nine nations and is being funded with £3.8m of EU cash.

The SAC’s project co-ordinator is the newly appointed chair of animal health and welfare, Professor Adroaldo Zanella, a Brazilian animal welfare specialist

The international group of researchers met at SAC’s Edinburgh campus this week to finalise arrangements for the programme’s four research packages. Among the collaborators are researchers from Brazil and the US, as well as Europe.

The European representation includes Norway, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as England and Scotland. Their individual projects will reflect the conditions and practices in their own areas.

The work will be with sheep, goats, horses, donkey and turkeys and aims to develop practical, easy-to-recognise signs or “indicators” of animal welfare that are still based on scientific evidence. Many existing assessments use invasive techniques, such as blood tests, and are impractical to use on-farm.  

One key focus of the work will be pain, the SAC said, and the new research will develop and refine non-invasive ways of assessing pain, including the effects of diseases such as mastitis, foot rot in sheep and goats and laminitis in horses. There will be studies of the attitudes animal keepers have to pain in their stock and other work on how to best manage painful conditions.

The work is also aiming to refine our understanding of how the numbers of animals kept in a particular space and the quality of the space allocated can affect their welfare. There will also be studies on the effects good handling and favourable housing have on the development of offspring.

Professor Adroaldo Zanella said a key aim of this international, multi-centre project is to establish a global research and teaching hub or school. It will be a “virtual environment” resource, bringing together existing knowledge and practice for students, teachers, legislators, producers and consumers, to raise animal welfare standards across the globe.

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