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Waitrose rolls out animal welfare app

UK supermarket Waitrose has launched an app to manage and improve opportunities animals have to a good, enriching life.

The company, which is the current holder of Compassion in World Farming’s “best retailer” in Europe award, hopes the app will lead to further improvements to animal welfare standards across the UK. It has been developed at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and there are 6 versions for different species – laying hens, broilers, dairy cows, veal calves, ducks, and pigs, with others in the pipeline.

Although the app itself is designed to be practical and easy-to-use on-farm, it is underpinned by rigorous scientific research, known as “Qualitative Behavioural Assessment" (QBA). Photo: Bert Jansen
Although the app itself is designed to be practical and easy-to-use on-farm, it is underpinned by rigorous scientific research, known as “Qualitative Behavioural Assessment" (QBA). Photo: Bert Jansen

How does the app work?

  • Trained welfare assessors visiting 1,800 Waitrose farms will use the app – the first of its kind – to record how animals express their emotions through behaviours such as relaxation, tension, playfulness or anxiety.
  • Animals are observed and given a score on the individual terms that have been created for that specific species – farmers and producers have been working together to come up with common terms to describe species’ emotions.
  • Each term has a negative to positive sliding scale that allows assessors to capture the state of the animal they are observing.
  • When they have finished scoring, assessors submit the data, which is integrated into data from other farms. The larger pattern which is then created is then used to assess quality of life.

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Rigorous research

Although the app itself is designed to be practical and easy-to-use on-farm, it is underpinned by rigorous scientific research, known as “Qualitative Behavioural Assessment” (QBA). Creator and SRUC lead scientist Francoise Wemelsfelder said: “Good physical health is vital for good welfare, but there is clear consensus among the scientific and animal welfare community that factors such as enjoyment, contentment, and positive excitement play an equally vital role in ensuring that an animal has a good life. It’s critical that we recognise farm animals as sentient creatures capable of experiencing a range of emotions and positive experiences.

While this remains very much in development, the fact that the app will be trialled and developed at scale with a leading supermarket chain is an incredibly significant and positive step for the industry.”

James Bailey, Waitrose executive director, said it was the first time a retailer had explored welfare measures based on the concept of an animal’s freedom to express positive emotions: “In some countries, farm animals continue to be looked upon as food production systems that need to be managed. This is wrong and for the UK to continue its position as a leader in farming standards, it’s critical that we recognise farm animals as sentient creatures capable of experiencing a range of emotions and positive experiences.”

10-year strategy

The project forms part of Waitrose’s new 10-year agriculture strategy, which – among other ambitions – sets out to give animals good and enriching lives, to pay farmers fairly, to ensure all raw materials are responsibly sourced, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To find out more about the app, click here.