Mark Bryan is the managing director of a veterinary business in New Zealand. His business services more than 400,000 dairy cattle throughout the islands and conducts research that focuses largely on dairy cattle health and well-being. He shared his perspective on advancing animal well-being at the International Bayer Cattle Symposium in conjunction with the World Buiatrics Congress in Sapporo, Japan. Learn more about Mark and his passion for cattle well-being.
Mark, being a practicing veterinarian for more than 30 years, you have seen the industry change significantly. Can you tell us why animal well-being is important to you?
Animal well-being is vital to me and my role in the veterinary profession. Our goal as veterinarians should be to continually elevate animal well-being while at the same time, preserving animal health and productivity.
In fact, animal well-being is key for all stakeholders. For consumers, there’s a certain expectation that all animals are treated with care and with dignity. And they seek reassurance that this is indeed the case. For retailers, their goal is to deliver products that are produced with animal well-being at the forefront of the process. And for farmers endeavor to give their animals the best possible care as they are well aware of the benefits of production processes that embrace good animal well-being. For them moving from a commodity product to one of value is also essential.
So does that mean there are benefits to ensuring animal well-being on the farm?
There is no question that improving animal well-being will also improve animal performance and production. There are countless studies demonstrating this. For example, the link between an animal’s body condition and performance and also improvement in health. It is also well known that good animal well-being is associated with reductions in antimicrobial use and in other treatments.
If there is “no question” about the benefit of good animal well-being practices, why is public perception different?
There is certainly a disconnect as very few people these days are linked to food production. We have seen that activism influences cultural perceptions in modern societies. For those on the margins, our production methods will never be satisfactory. But what is important for consumers to know is that livestock professionals are well aware that good animal well-being is the basis for good animal health and that they prioritize that. Also, advancing animal well-being is a continuous process.
Collaboration and transparency are key to achieving greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution of agriculture. All parts of the food chain can improve their approach to sustainable production and they need to do that in a collaborative and transparent manner. Similarly, there is an educational role that is needed to explain the value of protein production systems in the modern world and its role in feeding 10 billion people by 2050.
How can veterinarians help promote greater understanding and appreciation of livestock farming?
Veterinarians typically have a detailed, narrow focus and insular in their perspective. Being a veterinarian myself, I feel that it would be helpful if more of us lift our sights to a more multi-faceted approach to production, and link in with a One Health perspective. Get a better understanding of sustainability, human health, food safety, economic viability and other disciplines. Also, develop a future view of food production and challenge their clients to consider how animal well-being may look in 5-10-20 years.