Cost of animal welfare weighs on French producers

Animal Feed for Thought

Jackie Roembke, editor of Feed Strategy magazine, offers her perspective on happenings in the global feed and grain industries.

Cost of animal welfare weighs on French producers

Cost of animal welfare weighs on French producers

Consumer demand increasingly dictates production shifts, animal producers react

According to a 2012 animal welfare survey from the University of Reading, 96 percent of consumers report feeling that it is “a moral obligation to safeguard” the welfare of meat animals. In France, much like in many other regions of the world, animal protein producers are increasingly having to rework their production and animal health systems to meet consumer demands.

“Welfare is hard to measure because it so subjective,” said Etienne Laffitte, technical director of Neovia France’s premix business Wisium, while at SPACE 2017. “Efficacy is good if the animal is healthy, but that’s not enough for the consumer. Feed producers are charts-and-numbers people, so it’s more difficult to access [success] when it comes to animal welfare.”

The challenge for feed producers has been finding the balance between scientific and socially acceptable points of view.

“It’s hard to quantify how much of the animal’s success is determined by the ecosystem in which it lives,” he said, noting the weight of internal factors, such as the role stress plays on animal immunity, and external factors, like hygiene. “Feed is 60 percent of the cost, but only 30 percent of performance.”

Many times, animal agriculture finds itself taking a reactive stance toward the consumer, but fails in communicating the reality of high-intensity production. Unfortunately, in the end, the cost of the new animal welfare standards taxes the producer’s already-tight margins.

“For 10 to 20 years, consumer emotions have been driven by misconceptions and miscommunication,” he said. “They believe in old agriculture as being the way to go, but that’s not possible. Products will be unaffordable. Producers need to adjust with different business models and embrace diversity, such as organic and standard labels.”

With the influence of public opinion showing no sign of letting up, the questions remains: Are consumers willing to pay for their preferences at the grocery store?