Expert elicitation in animal welfare risk assessment – methods and limitations

Bracke, M.B.M. 2010. Expert elicitation in animal welfare risk assessment – methods and limitations. In: Lidfors, L., Blokhuis, H., Keeling, L., Proceedings of the 44th Congress of the ISAE, Uppsala, Sweden, August 4-7 2010, p. 237 (Invited presentation for the workshop on Animal Welfare Risk Assessment).

The objective of both risk assessment and semantic modelling of animal welfare is to support political and ethical decision making. In semantic modelling procedures have been designed to systematically transfer scientific knowledge into welfare scores. Principles developed for semantic modelling may benefit risk assessment (Bracke et al., Animal 2:1061, 2008), e.g. using expert elicitation of welfare scores and weighting factors to ‘validate’ risk assessment outcomes. Expert elicitation can help to increase transparency as experts may have diverging views on welfare, as was found for veterinary and behavioural experts assessing housing systems for calves (Bracke et al., Acta. Vet. Scand. 50:29, 2008). In addition, for policy makers and the general public it is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend how expert opinions as formulated in ESFA risk assessment reports will translate into improved welfare. The case of tail biting and tail docking in pigs is used as an example to show that expert opinion is crucial to further translate the EFSA report (EFSA J. 611:1, 2007) into risk management decisions, be it as a tool to solve welfare problems on farms or as an update of EC Directive 2001/93 on pig welfare. While the Directive may be revised radically from existing environment-based prescriptions into exclusive use of animal-based welfare measures such as curly pig tails, as suggested by the Welfare Quality® project, it may be worthwhile to consider alternatives perhaps involving only moderate adjustments of existing regulations together with enhanced compliance in order to bring about the required improvements in pig welfare.

Keywords: animal welfare experts; cattle; risk assessment; semantic modelling; tail biting in pigs

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