University of São Paulo - Brazil

Animal Welfare – a personal account of its evolution in Brazil

(by Professor Adroaldo José Zanella – Professor of Animal Welfare at University of São Paulo, Brazil) – July 5th 2021

Fred Arruda, Ambassador of Brazil in the United Kingdom, wrote about this important article. Access the Ambassador’s word here.

Brazil is on its way to becoming a world leader in the welfare of farm animals. It is making swift advances in the understanding of pet-related issues and it is making inroads into wildlife protection. It is a cause dear to Brazil and to the Brazilian people. Indeed, Brazil may well be the only country that enshrines the prohibition of cruelty to animals in its constitution. Recent research shows that Brazilian consumers favour systems that value animal welfare and sustainability.

In my professional career, I have had the opportunity to witness the advancement of animal welfare in several countries and universities, and I am really proud to be participating in the evolution of Brazilian livestock farming towards a One Welfare approach.

It was during my doctorate at Cambridge University, and under the guidance of Professor Donald Broom, that I presented, at the World Congress of Veterinary Medicine in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, the results (unpublished at the time) of research on changes in endogenous opioids in the brain of sows housed in crates, showing that such changes are associated with repetitive behaviour; that system would be banned in the UK in 1999 and in Europe in 2013. That event opened to me the doors of the Veterinary School of Munich, at Ludwig Maximilians Universität, from which I organised the first Latin American event on animal welfare, in 1994, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. On that occasion, we addressed issues such as animal transport and slaughter.

In 1996, I joined Michigan State University, where I spent ten years. There I created a programme on animal welfare that would come to be regarded as one of the most influential in the world. Then, in 2006, as I joined the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, now Norwegian University of Life Science, I was contacted by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA), who asked me to develop theoretical and practical training on the humane slaughter of animals for their official veterinarians working in the inspection of products of animal origin. The training, in collaboration with the Universidade de Passo Fundo, Brazil, was attended by Temple Grandin. An American scientist renowned for her work in animal welfare, Grandin left Brazil with a positive impression of the poultry slaughterhouses that she visited in our country. That training programme would become a milestone in MAPA’s actions in that field. From Norway, I was able to continue helping in the development of animal welfare in Brazil, by receiving students and researchers, and in close contact with Brazilian institutions.

As a full professor and chair in animal health and welfare at Scotland’s Rural College in Edinburgh, I coordinated the second largest ever project on animal welfare in the world. Funded by the European Union to the order of six million euros, the AWIN project included some events in Brazil. The first one was in Belo Horizonte, where we proposed to undertake the creation of a global school for animal welfare, which became the Animal Welfare Science Hub, a global portal for communication in the area of animal welfare.

Every new visit to Brazil gave me the certainty that the compass of animal welfare and sustainability in food production was pointing to our country. The challenges and exceptional opportunities to transform Brazilian livestock farming into a model of animal welfare attracted me to the University of São Paulo (USP). There, starting in 2013, after twenty-six years abroad, I set off to create a unique centre of excellence in animal welfare in Brazil, with a focus on the development of animal welfare indicators, the production of robust and resilient phenotypes, quality of life for producers and consumers, and sustainability as well. Animal welfare became a mandatory subject in our programme at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science of USP, and we were awarded the World Veterinary Association’s prize in the field of animal welfare, in 2018.

“The “Integrated Crop-Livestock-Forest” (ILPF) systems, besides giving greater thermal comfort to animals, have been proven to neutralise greenhouse gas emissions, which enabled the launch of Embrapa’s Carbon Neutral Brazilian Beef official seal.”

We quickly entered into partnerships with other public institutions and established an animal welfare monitoring programme that would become an international reference point, namely the Platform Unified to Respond to Accidents involving Animals (PURAA). This programme was recognised with two awards by the São Paulo Military Police, an institution that helped to create the initiative, for its innovation in solving recurring problems related to road accidents involving live cargo and collisions with animals.

This innovative way of using the motorways to better understand issues of animal welfare, animal health, food safety, and even tax evasion, paved the way for the establishment in São Paulo of a network that became a template for Brazil. The interaction between the different inspection agencies went on to allow the transportation of live cargo in São Paulo to be routinely inspected for animal welfare on the motorways. The Military Police, the Military Road Police, the Secretary of Agriculture of the State of São Paulo and the Ministry of Agriculture are partners in the PURAA activities.

Currently, Brazil is stepping up its legal framework for the protection of animal welfare. MAPA’s recent Normative Instruction 113/2020 establishes good practices in management and animal welfare in commercial pig farms and puts Brazilian pork production at the forefront in the world, with specific guidelines on training and measures to ensure animal welfare. This Normative Instruction was devised with contributions from the Brazilian Association of Pork Producers, who worked closely with MAPA and brought the different stakeholders and interested parties to the debates when the rules were being drawn up. The livestock industry was always attentive to these issues and found continuous support in MAPA.

Cattle farming has also benefited from initiatives led by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in gauging the advantages of the forest-pasture system. The data unequivocally show that cattle farming can coexist in perfect harmony with Brazil’s rich biodiversity. The Integrated Crop-Livestock-Forest (ILPF) systems, besides giving greater thermal comfort to animals, have been proven to neutralise greenhouse gas emissions, which enabled the launch of Embrapa’s Carbon Neutral Brazilian Beef official seal.

 “The fact is that Brazil today, possibly like no other country, is perfectly qualified, in its livestock production, to comply with the five freedoms of the global framework of animal welfare protection.”

Biodiversity issues are part of Brazil’s everyday life and the country is seeking strategies to project them internationally. For example, they are contemplated in the Mercosur-European Union Agreement and in global initiatives of climate change mitigation. As far as animal welfare is concerned, the Mercosur-European Union Agreement establishes a dialogue and an exchange of information between the parties. At the 88th General Assembly of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), as a reflection of its progress, Brazil obtained an increase in the number of states recognised as areas free from foot-and-mouth disease without vaccination. The OIE was very clear on their agenda towards animal welfare and Brazil is attentive to its responsibility in this area.

The fact is that Brazil today, possibly like no other country, is perfectly qualified, in its livestock production, to comply with the five freedoms of the global framework of animal welfare protection.

The first freedom ensures that animals are not hungry or thirsty, and have access to water and sufficient food to keep them healthy and strong. Only extreme weather conditions can jeopardise this freedom in Brazil, where pastures are abundant.

Regarding the second freedom, which ensures that an animal is free from distress and enjoys conditions that are suitable to its species, including in terms of shelter and comfort, it is the case that some challenges still remain. But these are challenges that we can certainly overcome, for example, by providing cattle with access to shade in forest-pasture systems. As for egg-laying poultry and pigs, changes in the housing systems would be required, like virtually everywhere else in the world.

The third freedom ensures that an animal lives a life free from pain and injury, and this includes speedy diagnosis and interventions to relieve pain. In Brazil, although the use of swine immunocastration is high, surgical procedures that still cause pain and discomfort mobilise professionals and producers in the search for solutions. When it comes to disease diagnosis, Brazil has competent veterinarians who have the support of both official and private bodies of recognised excellence to meet the demands for rapid interventions.

Few countries have access to environments such as those available in Brazil for animals to be able to enjoy the fourth freedom, which ensures that a species’ natural behaviours are not disturbed. Forest-pasture systems for the rearing of ruminants are being developed very rapidly, as are Voisin Rational Grazing systems. A large proportion of cattle production in Brazil is under the system of free-range pasture. The aforementioned MAPA Normative Instruction 113/2020 provides for the elimination of gestation crates for sows. In this regard, egg-laying poultry is the main concern in Brazil and measures are being explored for possible transitions to systems that will ensure that birds have access to nests, material suitable for pecking at, and other important requirements for the species. As a result of demands from Brazilian civil society, a number of companies have already announced deadlines for their transition in egg production systems.

“Just as importantly, livestock production is fundamental to food security and food safety, with a strong social component in Brazil.”

Regarding the fifth freedom, which ensures the absence of fear and stress, livestock farming in Brazil also stands out for their growing interest in training and other outreach activities led by universities and other institutions. Family farmers, breeders of poultry and pigs, are in most cases directly integrated into the chain of production through the meat industry, which constantly promotes training in the fields of animal welfare and health. The chains of beef and dairy cattle have been making swift progress in their pursuit of low-stress management, in a somewhat less organised fashion than the pig and poultry industries. Animal transportation has specific rules and the country is improving its inspections. Animal slaughter, under federal, state, and municipal inspection, follows specific legislation, and the respect for animals during pre-slaughter handling and stunning is guaranteed by law. MAPA runs training courses throughout Brazil to provide the meat industry with access to the most modern techniques of animal protection in the transportation, pre-slaughter handling, and during slaughter.

Just as importantly, livestock production is fundamental to food security and food safety, with a strong social component in Brazil. The 2016-2017 Agricultural & Farming Census shows that 31% of cattle, 45.5% of poultry, 51.4% of pigs, and 70.2% of goats are produced in family farms, which are also responsible for 64.2% of milk production. These data underscore the social dimension of animal production for sustainable development.

To conclude, a final remark about Brazil’s relationship with the international community as a whole. This is a decisive factor in ensuring proper recognition for those stakeholders responsible for good practices in the field of animal welfare, sustainability and quality of life for producers. More diversified and deeper partnerships with other countries, in favour of sustainable animal welfare practices, are also very welcome, insofar as they offer opportunities for positive experiences to be duly recognised and, consequently, publicised. Ever in the spirit of international cooperation, we would all benefit from the establishment of a centre that gathered researchers from all over the world dedicated to animal welfare. The Fernando Costa Campus at USP, in Pirassununga, might be one of the most suitable locations for the creation of a unique centre of excellence in health, sustainability and welfare.

Based on my personal experience, I firmly believe that, because of its rich history regarding these issues and given its openness to the world, Brazil stands out increasingly among the leading players in the promotion of animal welfare and sustainable development under the umbrella of ONE WELFARE, ONE PLANET.