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Livestock Welfare

AHA’s Position Statement regarding the role of AHA in Livestock Welfare


AHA’s role in the animal welfare continuum is contained to issues that may impact on animal production, trade and market access and community social licence[1].  AHA plays an important role in supporting the livestock industries and governments to take a strategic approach to livestock welfare management.

AHA has three major roles in livestock welfare:

  • To provide leadership through collaboration and coordination to facilitate solutions for livestock welfare issues where requested by Members.
  • To manage collaborative projects for livestock welfare on behalf of Members.
  • To contribute to the development and communication of livestock welfare policy initiatives by Members.

The following principles for AHA involvement in livestock welfare are proposed in the context of the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan:

  1. AHA will provide a mechanism that enables industry and government to maintain and increase market access through effective partnerships for livestock welfare and production.
  2. AHA will work with Members to achieve agreed sustainable outcomes for the strategic management of livestock welfare risks and improved livestock wellbeing.
  3. AHA will seek new ways and partnerships to assist industry in the development of industry verification systems and tools.
  4. AHA will contribute to livestock welfare policy developments that balance current scientific knowledge, sustainable industry practices and community expectations.
  5. AHA will maintain a livestock welfare core capability for a productive contribution to Members livestock welfare issues. Specific projects will be funded by appropriate stakeholders.

The relevant strategies under the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan are:

  • Assist industry in the development of industry verification systems and tools for animal health and welfare to support market access
  • Strengthen member collaboration to adopt a consistent legislative and regulatory approach to achieve sustainable and improved animal welfare outcomes.

Inclusions/exclusions to AHA involvement:

Included Excluded
Participation in: Animal Welfare Task Group (AWTG), AHA Industry Forum (IF) National Farmers Federation Animal Health and Welfare taskforce (NFF AH&W taskforce), Livestock Animal Welfare Communications Network Group (CNG). Response to public campaigns.
Strategic liaison between government and AHA industry Members. Live export.
Contribute to industry and government policies as requested. Implementation of Standards.
Respond to enquiries from Members or their employees. Respond to non-member enquiries unless in member interest.
Monitor developments –watching brief. Active research.
Communicate AHA activities as relevant. Advice on matters of regulation.
Stewardship of the Standards development process (plan).
Manage the development of Australian Livestock Welfare Standards and Guidelines as agreed and/or the revision of livestock Model Codes of Practice as agreed. Response to specific welfare issues in the media
Support the development of welfare tools for industry derived from the development of Australian Livestock Welfare Standards and Guidelines Communication programs unless funded
Support to industry verification/assurance systems – definition, development and recognition. Verification of QA systems.
Develop or contribute to the development of welfare tools for industry.
Other projects as approved and funded. For livestock species or issues not covered by AHA membership, AHA may take a role. Unfunded work for non-members.

Definition of the animal welfare and wellbeing continuum

An animal’s basic quality of life can be based on an assessment of an animal’s physical and psychological state with respect to the five freedoms[2] as defined by Professor Brambell in 1965.

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Animal welfare can be measured according to:

  • Biological functioning (BCS, disease, reproduction)
  • Affective states (pain, distress, fear, contentment)
  • Natural living (behaviours).

Animal welfare, animal liberation and animal rights are not synonymous terms. Animal liberation and animal rights represent a wide diversity of philosophical views and personal values.

Under the previous Australian Animal Welfare Strategy[3], Australia accepts the agreed international definition of animal welfare from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE):

Animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter/killing.

Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment.

Furthermore the AAWS states: Sentience, which implies a level of conscious awareness, is the reason that welfare matters. The management and treatment that sentient animals receive should not inflict unnecessary suffering. As guardians, custodians and caretakers, all Australians have a duty of care to ensure that the welfare of animals is maintained and protected. Animal husbandry and management practices must continue to evolve and improve as society’s expectations change.

Whilst animal welfare has not been defined in the standards and guidelines documents, the OIE definition is regarded as partitioned, with the latter elements also being an important consideration, as reflected in the 12 principles for cattle and sheep in the standards and guidelines documents.  These are equivalent to the later published OIE guiding principles on animal welfare.[4]

The NHMRC has a large interest in animal welfare from a scientific use perspective. They provide the following definitions:

Animal welfare – An animal’s quality of life based on an assessment of an animal’s physical and psychological state as an indication of how the animal is coping with the ongoing situation as well as a judgement about how the animal feels.

Animal wellbeing – An animal’s present state with regard to its relationship with all aspects of its environment, both internal and external. It implies a positive mental state, successful biological function, positive experiences and freedom from adverse conditions.[5]

Animal wellbeing is of considerable importance to today’s consumers. Nowadays food quality is not only determined by the overall nature and safety of the end product but also by the perceived wellbeing status of the animals from which the food is produced. The fact that improving the animal’s wellbeing can positively affect product quality, pathology and disease resistance also has a direct bearing on food quality and safety.

It is widely accepted that there is no single measure of animal wellbeing but that welfare status should be reflected in behaviour of animals as well as by their parasite load, body condition score and weight change.  Significant progress has been made through MLA-funded and other international R&D to understand what constitutes ‘wellbeing’ for individual sheep, goats or cattle, but the measures identified may not always match human judgment of what is reasonable.

World Animal Protection (formerly WSPA) has added an international dimension by creating the Animal Protection Index[6] which establishes a classification of 50 countries around the world according to their commitments to protect animals and improve animal welfare in policy and legislation.  There are five themes and 15 elements; recognising animal protection, governance structures and systems, animal welfare standards, providing humane education and promoting communication and awareness.  The impact of this index is still to be realised and parts of its assessment process questionable; however, it does provide a general country level guidance on the national animal welfare system and indicates areas for improvement in the eyes of the NGO’s involved. It should be considered as a guide only and not definitive.

Six NGO’s for animal welfare have constructed the index with experts and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) consulted at each stage of the index’s progress. OIE delegates and CVOs were contacted to review individual country profiles.  The index is supported by DLA Piper legal. Australia rates overall as a ‘C’, in comparison to New Zealand that is rated more highly at ‘A’.  Australia scored poorly due to failure to support the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare, legislating OIE welfare standards, perceived poor OIE participation and lack of educational programs.  The fairness of the criteria and the rating decision is questionable.


[1] A social licence to operate is the community’s tacit consent for a business or project to exist.
[5] NHMRC 2008. Guidelines to promote the wellbeing of animals used for scientific purposes the assessment and alleviation of pain and distress in research animals. This publication is a living document and will be updated from time to time. Please refer to the NHMRC website at to download updates for incorporation into this folder.

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Page reviewed: May 10, 2018