Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
REVIEW

Neurophysiological assessment of animal welfare

A. J. Tilbrook A B C and C. R. Ralph A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Animal Welfare Science Centre, South Australian Research and Development Institute, Roseworthy, SA 5371, Australia.

B Present address: Centre for Animal Science, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: a.tilbrook@uq.edu.au

Animal Production Science 57(12) 2370-2375 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN17312
Submitted: 12 May 2017  Accepted: 31 July 2017   Published: 20 November 2017

Abstract

Livestock industries such as the pork industry are striving to continuously improve the welfare of animals. Inherent to the success of this is the ability to rigorously assess the welfare of animals in the field. While much progress has been made towards the development of methodology to assess the welfare of animals, there have been major challenges to establishing practical and definitive procedures to assess the welfare of animals. These include, but are not limited to, establishing a universally accepted definition of animal welfare and the choice of measures that are taken from the animal to assess its welfare. Measures of biological functioning and affective (emotional) state of the animal have been common, but there have been many limitations in terms of practical application. Some of the reasons for this include the choice of physiological measures, which are often restrictive in providing information about welfare, affective measures being restricted to specific behavioural measures and the biological-functioning and affective-states approaches being undertaken in isolation. Biological and affective functioning are integrated and controlled by the brain. Many of the regions of the brain involved in the regulation of biological and emotional functioning have been identified. Furthermore, there is considerable knowledge about the roles and interactions among the neurophysiological systems in these brain regions. We propose a strategy to use this knowledge to develop procedures to assess animal welfare. The initial phase is to identify the neural pathways that regulate the physiological and emotional processes that allow animals to adapt and cope. The next phase is to determine the activity of these pathways in conscious animals in the field. This requires the identification of biomarkers of specific neuronal activity that can be measured in the conscious animal in the field. Emerging technologies are offering promise in the identification of such biomarkers and some of these are already applicable to the pig. There is now the opportunity to apply this strategy within the pork industry to assess the welfare of pigs throughout the value chain.


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