Researchers in the UK are developing an observation system for farm animals using small cameras connected to computers. The cameras will be placed inside areas where animals are housed in order to observe their behaviors for signs of poor health. Data from the cameras will be sent to computers for storage and analysis.
“We have been working from the outset with industry partners to ensure that we develop something that is useful on commercial farms and is an improvement on the traditional ways of measuring the welfare of animal flocks,” said Professor Marian Dawkins from Oxford University. (Source: Medianewswire.com)
They use the example of large numbers of chickens living in sheds raised for food. Currently their health is monitored when personnel visit their spaces and observe them directly. Also their feet are examined, but only at the end of their lives. The new surveillance technology would allow multiple settings to be examined quickly and efficiently in real time, and gather much more data. There is additionally the potential for such a system to become automated, as software could detect certain unusual movements from chickens that are known to be signs of disease, … ill or injured birds disrupt the flow of movement and our camera set-up can detect that disruption and alert us quickly to any problems in the flock,” said Professor Dawkins. (Source: Medianewswire.com)
In the United States, the use of video surveillance has been discussed for a similar purpose. The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sub-agency has only suggested the technology could be used though. Undercover video taping has been a key weapon for animal activists and animal welfare organizations in exposing the abuse, and neglect of many farm animals that is ongoing. The organization Free from Harm published an article recognizing the potential of permanently installed surveillance video to decrease farm animal abuses: “Video surveillance as a standard practice in the animal agriculture industry would be an important part of a solution to address the shortage of on-site inspectors necessary to monitor the some 9.5 billion animals slaughtered annually in this country for food. It would also provide a disincentive to would-be animal abusers.” (Source: Freefromharm.org)
If the technology is used successfully in the UK, it certainly will provide some credible evidence for animal rights organizations in the United States to push for its adoption here also.
Funding for the animal welfare project comes from the Institute for Animal Health. The research organization seeks to improve the living conditions of farm animals and protect their health by eliminating viral diseases they contract. Their services may be more in demand as climate change allows more insects to move into newly warmer areas, and spread diseases to animals.