• Embedding animal welfare in sustainability assessment: an indicator approach

      Brennan, M.; Hennessy, Thia; Dillon, Emma Jane (Teagasc, 2021-11-17)
      In line with growing consumer interest in sustainable food production, a number of farm-level sustainability indicator studies have been published in recent years. Despite the importance of animal welfare, many such frameworks fail to adequately take account of it, mostly due to difficulties in accessing suitable data. This paper demonstrates that it is possible to develop indicators of animal welfare that can be embedded within a wider sustainability framework using a representative farm-level dataset such as the European Union (EU) Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) for Ireland, the Teagasc National Farm Survey. The paper presents a set of sustainability indicators for dairy farms in Ireland for the 2014–2017 period and examines the impact of policy reform on sustainability performance. Headline results show that welfare standards on dairy farms in Ireland have remained stable over the period despite the considerable intensification of the dairy sector following EU milk quota removal. Furthermore, dairy farms that have expanded herd size significantly have improved welfare standards more than farms that have not increased production. An analysis of synergies and trade-offs between the various aspects of sustainability reveals that positive correlations exist between welfare standards and economic and environmental performance. The analysis facilitates the identification of win-win farm-level strategies that can be adopted to improve economic, environmental and animal welfare outcomes. The framework developed here presents opportunities for evaluating policy impacts at the farm level on various aspects of sustainability. The use of the FADN demonstrates the capacity to extend such an approach across the EU.