“We have better control of our product”

This is a social issue that is increasingly present among consumers. Animal welfare is even for more than two-thirds of French people an election campaign issue, according to a recent Ifop poll. In the countryside, consciousness is ancient. Like Arnaud Leclercq’s farm in Dolignon, north of the Aisne, not far from the Ardennes. The breeder operates 200 hectares in polyculture and has 80 Charolais cows, bred for the quality of their meat. “We are reduced to 80 mothersexplains the creator. We ‘de-intensify’ to do better and not chase volume. OWe live even better because we have much less overhead and we have better control of our product.”

Less, but better, it goes through comfortable facilities. A large barn (we say a free stall) of 2,400 m². For 80 animals, there is space and even music. “It’s very common on ‘Happy’ farms to have the radio running all the time.noticed Arnaud Leclercq. There are studies that prove the interest in the welfare of cattle”.

The Charolais cows by Arnaud Leclercq, breeder of Dolignon in the Aisne, February 2022. (GUILLAUME GAVEN / RADIO FRANCE)

This so-called “Happy” approach aims to improve animal welfare. More than 200 control points are examined by veterinarian Pierre Kirsch, starting with the way cattle are fed: “The number of available drinking fountains, the flow rate of the drinking fountains, the cleanliness. We even asked the breeder if he would accept to drink water from one of his animals’ drinking fountains.”

And that’s not all, the living environment counts for a lot. “Obviously you need a very good clean, dry, flexible and soft beddingdetails theand veterinarian. We see that on this farm, we are on a very thick straw bed. There is the knee test to evaluate it, where you have to go down three or four times and not feel pain. Knowing that a cow will do this movement 10 to 15 times a day.”

A well-being that should concern everyone, animal as breeder, esteems the owner of the places. “The cows, they have to be ‘bénaise’, that is, very comfortable or very happyexplains Arnaud Leclercq. We need to have healthy and happy animals to do well in our profession. The peasant who no longer feels useful to his neighbor, I don’t know how he manages to sleep at night.”

A happy breeder is what the “Happy” approach stands for. The problem, so to speak, is that only 300 farms are labeled out of the 50,000 in France. There is still a long way to go. The interpro meat company, Interbev, is well aware of this. Three years ago, it launched its own animal welfare approach called Boviwell, which is less selective as there are only about fifty criteria to meet. About 1,500 farms have entered the process so far and the objective of the seal is to reach 50,000 farms by 2025. But it is not the only one, explains Bruno Dufayet, president of the commission. “At the agricultural fair, a butcher-breeder compromise will be presented, as the butcher must be accountable to his customer when buying his steak, in a way. It’s not just the quality of the product, it’s also the conditions of creation.”

The approach is actually more comprehensive. Everyone should get involved, at all levels, and we are far from that today. For example, there is animal welfare labeling. But it is a private initiative, launched in 2019 by large supermarket chains and poultry farms. This is a label on chicken trays that rates animal welfare from A to E. The approach is gaining ground today, pork and eggs will join it in 2022.

Other types of creation must follow, but this initiative remains voluntary. As always, only the good students are, laments Louis Schweitzer, president of the association Etiquette bien-être animal: “Some reserve themselves to anything that can establish a distinction between breeders, but it is true that in all areas there is a first price product where conditions are less satisfactory and there are products that better respect the well-being of being an animal. “

“The breeder has to accept that there is a rating like in other areas and that not everyone can have the maximum grade.”

Louis Schweitzer, President of the Animal Welfare Label Association

in franceinfo

Only the Ministry of Agriculture could therefore make this classification mandatory, but animal welfare is not on the agenda. There is indeed a law on animal abuse, passed in November 2021. Today, the subject, it is said in the minister’s entourage, is the luxury movement. “A transition cannot be decreed, it is accompanied” and this is accompanied financially, of course.

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