Dairy cows at higher welfare risk than beef cattle – study

The concept that dairy cows are treated more favorably than cattle raised for red meat has been challenged by a newly-published study carried out by the University of Copenhagen (UCPH).

The researchers, led by Roi Mandel, asked 70 leading bovine welfare experts from 23 counties to assess the welfare risks across the most common beef and dairy production systems in their countries. The experts, who had a median experience of at least 15 years, were recruited from Europe (35), North America (17), South America (8), Australia (5), and other regions of the world (5).

They rated separately the welfare concerns for dairy/beef calves raised for red meat, dairy/beef calves raised for veal, dairy/beef calves raised as a replacement, and for dairy/beef cows.

Their ratings showed that dairy herds were more likely to experience welfare risks compared to animals from beef herds. “These findings suggest that consuming food products derived from common dairy production systems (dairy or meat) may be more harmful to the welfare of animals than consuming products derived from common beef production systems (i.e. from animals solely raised for their meat),”​ the authors concluded.

The bovine experts who participated in the study were tasked with rating 12 welfare statements from 1 (very low) to 7 (very high) to determine how each production system fared in terms of welfare risks.

The format was inspired by the Welfare Quality protocol and the statements were: inadequate diet, inadequate water supply, thermal discomfort, resting discomfort, injuries, disease, pain resulting from management/handling/surgical procedures, inability to move freely, inability to perform social behavior, inability to perform other normal behaviors, experiencing negative affective states, and lack of experiencing positive affective states.



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