Waitrose has launched a “first of its kind” mobile app that will help the retailer assess the emotional wellbeing of its animals.
Developed by leading animal behavioural scientists at Scotland’s Rural College and licensed by Waitrose for trial and development for two years, the app allows animal welfare inspectors to record different expressive qualities of behaviour – being relaxed, tense, playful or anxious.
These behaviours were “indicative of an animal’s emotional body language and possible signs of their general well-being”, Waitrose said. The app would help it manage and improve opportunities animals had “to experience a good and enriching life” – a process the retailer hoped would help it lead further improvements to animal welfare standards across the UK.
Using the app through its farming network would also help field teams assessing Waitrose farms to develop their skills and help quantify the different expressions they observed when looking at their animals, Waitrose said.
“Good physical health is vital for good welfare but there is clear consensus among the scientific animal welfare community that factors such as enjoyment, contentment and positive excitement play an equally vital role in ensuring that an animal has a good life,” said app creator, professor Francoise Wemelsfelder.
While the app remained very much in development, “the fact that the app will be trialled and developed at scale with a leading supermarket chain is an incredibly significant and positive step for the industry”, Wemelsfelder added.
“This is a huge development for the industry as it is the first time any retailer has explored welfare measures based on the concept of an animal’s freedom to express positive emotions,” said Waitrose executive director James Bailey.
“In some countries, farm animals continue to be looked upon as food production systems that need to be managed. This is wrong and for the UK to continue its position as a leader in farming standards, it’s critical that we recognise farm animals as sentient creatures capable of experiencing a range of emotions and positive experiences. By acknowledging this, working hard to understand what those positive emotional expressions are and how they can be unlocked, we can lead the industry into a new and more confident era of farm animal welfare.”
The project forms one part of Waitrose’s new 10-year agriculture strategy, which – among other ambitions – sets out to give animals good and enriching lives, pay farmers fairly, ensure all raw materials are responsibly sourced and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all UK farms and fisheries.