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On-farm welfare assessment has been used mainly for non-regulatory purposes such as producer education or to qualify for voluntary welfare-assurance programs. The application of on-farm assessments in regulatory programs would require four issues to be addressed: (1) selecting criteria that are widely accepted as valid by diverse citizens, (2) setting minimum legal levels, (3) achieving the high level of fairness and objectivity required for legally binding requirements, and (4) achieving the cost-efficiency needed for widespread use of the methods. Issues 1 and 2 pose a particular problem because different citizens disagree on what they understand as good animal welfare, with substantial differences between producers and non-producers. A solution could be a deliberative process involving panels of producers and non-producers committed to understanding the issues and reaching a deliberated solution. Issues 3 and 4 (fairness and efficiency) require scientific data on the precision, repeatability, independence, and cost-of-scoring for the various candidate criteria. A process is also needed to bring the scientific information into the deliberative process, either as formal recommendations and/or through direct participation of scientists. If these issues can be resolved, the use of on-farm assessment could in principle generate widespread acceptance, be responsive to change, and lead to better welfare outcomes than regulations that merely stipulate features of the physical environment.


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