WHETHER it be consumer expectations, legislation, education or culture, the factors driving animal welfare outcomes in livestock production around the world vary enormously.
Still, there are numerous lessons to be learned for Australia's livestock businesses from taking a look at how others have improved practices and gone on to successfully enhance understanding within their own societies to ensure acceptability and sustainability of their industry.
That's the conclusion South Australia's Thomas Green, a 2019 Nuffield Scholar, came to after travelling extensively overseas with support from Rabobank and visiting feedlots, farmers, service providers, retailers, abattoirs and research institutions.
Mr Green's research honed in on existing intensive livestock production animal welfare practices and he investigated how industry improvements might be better communicated to stakeholders.
As the general manager of the Thomas Foods International owned Iranda Beef and Southern Cross Rural operations at Tintinara, he oversees the operation of a 17,500 head feedlot and 15,000 hectare farming and backgrounding property running 1,400 Angus cows.
He spent four months on the road last year and saw operations feeding more than 100,000 head in the United States right down to a 20-head feedlot in Switzerland supplying a single restaurant chain.
Along with those two countries, his travels took in Canada, Brazil, Kenya, Qatar, Bulgaria, Romania, France and the United Kingdom and covered a variety of operations including beef cattle, dairy farms, feedlots, pigs and poultry.
"At one point in western Kansas there were more feedlot cattle within a 100 mile radius of where I was standing than the feedlot cattle in all of Australia," he said.
"I was able to see a real cross section of scale and intensity of operations. I visited regions with very high animal welfare standards and strong legislation and others where the concept is still not very mature," he said.
He said in general, people in livestock production around the world have a strong connection to their animals and a good understanding of their needs.
"But there is large variance globally in the emphasis put on animal welfare," he said.
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Government legislation, for example, ranges from being almost non-existent, such as in Kenya, to the other extreme in central Europe where legislation is comprehensive and strictly adhered to.
"Or there are countries like Brazil, which do have strong legislation but there is little follow through," Mr Green said.
"Australia's legislation is relatively strong but it is interesting that, although developed, there is still no nationally accepted standard for farm animal welfare. Animal welfare is still governed by the states here, and their legislation can differ.
"I see a general lack of collaboration between different agricultural industries and geographical farming regions in Australia. We have work to do in this area to put us at the forefront of global animal welfare.
"One of the challenges is how variable animal agriculture enterprises are in Australia - practices such as spaying, mulesing and the treatment of bobby calves are highly specific and can mean little to other industries. Compromise between sectors moving forward is essential.
"How does a single representative body fairly represent the entire agricultural sector or have standard legislation for such an expansive range of enterprises?"
Australia does, however, lead the way in education and extension, Mr Green believes.
Globally, animal welfare is driven by the expectations of the consumer, but it is important to remember that these expectations can vary enormously, Mr Green said.
"It was a common theme that consumers' preference is to purchase meat that has been raised ethically, but there were different levels of understanding about what that truly meant," he said.
"It is important to consider that a family in Bulgaria's way of thinking is very different to someone living in inner Sydney when it comes to sourcing food.
"For Australia, this is a particular challenge because we not only have to meet the expectations of domestic customers but we are a large exporting nation also."
Data shows price is still one of the key drivers in shaping consumer purchasing patterns. The growth in beef demand in particular is being driven by the emerging global middle class.
However, some markets in developed western nations, are showing a decline in growth of red meat sales.
These populations are lucky enough to have access to vast varieties or food, all year-round, Mr Green said.
"It's a privileged position to be in - to be able to go to the supermarket and have a variety of fresh, safe proteins to choose from. It's important to remember that being able to choose a flexitarian or vegan diet is a rare and an extremely fortunate privilege, that not many have," he said.
Mr Green believes that regardless of consumer expectations, or what premiums might be commanded for ethically-raised protein, it is essential that animal welfare is at the core of strategic directions for both the industry as a whole and individual producers.
This has to happen to ensure long-term sustainability.
"It's not just about economic sustainability, you need to be socially and environmentally sustainable to have a bright future," he said.