Research Topic

Improving Animal Welfare through Genetic Selection

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In livestock species, breeding goals are aimed primarily at improvement of production traits. However, there are a number of examples where selection for high production efficiency has resulted in reduced welfare through unfavorable outcomes in health, welfare and fitness characteristics. It is the society’s ...

In livestock species, breeding goals are aimed primarily at improvement of production traits. However, there are a number of examples where selection for high production efficiency has resulted in reduced welfare through unfavorable outcomes in health, welfare and fitness characteristics. It is the society’s understanding of these effects that has raised questions about what is ethically acceptable in animal breeding. As a result, there is a growing interest in the potential practical, economic and ethical issues of genetic selection for behavior in addition to that for production traits.

Welfare problems may result from a mismatch between the environmental challenges and the range of coping responses, or from a mismatch between the animal’s needs and their degree of satisfaction. This may be resolved by either adjusting the environment to suit the animal, or by modifying the animal by some means through genetic selection to fit the environment we are willing to provide. In general, the ‘five freedoms’ of the Farm Animal Welfare Council of the United Kingdom, that refer to affective experience (e.g., fear and hunger), biological functioning (e.g., injury and disease) and performance of natural behavior, guide the directives from the European Union to protect animals: 1) To increase space allowance per animal; 2) To permit interactions between animals; 3) To give more freedom of movement; 4) To provide animals with an enriched environment; 5) To feed animals a regimen consistent with their physiological and behavioral needs; 6) To limit painful intervention. However, behavioral traits are rarely included in selection programs despite their potential to improve animal production and welfare. Breeding goals have been broadened beyond production traits in most farm animal species to include health and functional traits, but opportunities exist to improve breeding indices with the inclusion of behavior. The Standing Committee of the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes emphasizes that breeding goals should include health and welfare. The Farm Animal Welfare Council pleas for a greater emphasis in breeding programs on traits associated with good welfare.

It is the goal of the present Research Topic to bring together key experimental and theoretical research focusing on the genetics of welfare traits, including a discussion on changes with domestication, and the possibility to improve animal welfare through selection.


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