From the beginning of this year, Valio will pay one cent extra per litre to entrepreneurs who have proven themselves committed to responsible dairy production. For the consumers, ensuring animal welfare is one of the most important ways in which Valio has an effect on the society.
Valio has implemented the most extensive renewal of quality and production practices in the company’s history. The aim of this development work is to promote animal wellbeing and a better quality of life for the animals. As of January 2018, Valio will pay a “responsibility bonus” to the entrepreneurs who commit to various measures to promote animal wellbeing, such as planned healthcare for the animals. The responsibility bonus is one cent per litre of milk. At present, about 80% of Valio dairy farms are covered by the reforms, and the goal is to have all farms involved by 2020.
- The scale of these reforms is so large that they could well be compared to the Finnish social and healthcare reforms that are currently being planned – for humans. “We’re delighted to see that dairy farmers throughout Finland are so committed to these changes. About 4,600 of the 5,800 dairy farms in the Valio group are already following the new guidelines. We will continue to provide local training, and expect a lot more farms to join the programme this year,” says Juha Nousiainen, director of farm services at Valio.
In December 2017, Valio carried out a survey in Finland of the company’s approach to responsibility from the perspective of Valio stakeholders. A majority of the respondents believe that animal welfare is one of the most important ways in which Valio has an effect on Finnish society. Two out of three consumers consider Valio’s quality and production reforms to be a major step forward in ensuring greater responsibility. More than 1,000 consumers participated in the survey. The respondents range in age from 18 to 75, and the sample was representative of the overall Finnish population in terms of age, gender and place of residence. The survey was implemented by the communications company Prior Konsultointi Oy.
- “Animal welfare is increasingly important to consumers. Responsible production is absolutely essential for ensuring ethical milk production, and for ensuring that dairy products remain attractive to consumers,” says Nousiainen.
Systematic and preventive healthcare is essential to animal welfare
Promoting a better life for animals means, among other things, that all the cattle on dairy farms are covered by planned healthcare, and that all the animals are included in the centralised healthcare register for Finnish cattle herds (Naseva). This ensures that a veterinarian visits the farm at least once a year to assess many matters related to the wellbeing and health of the cows. The data are comparable between different farms. To receive the responsibility bonus, each dairy farm must also implement regular monitoring of the condition of the hooves. They must also ensure that pain relief and sedatives are given to calves as part of dehorning, and that the procedure is carried out under the supervision of a vet. This has long been standard practice at most farms.
According to the production guidelines, every new barn must be a free-stall barn, meaning that it is built in such a way that the cows are freely able to spend time outdoors or to graze. At present, a total of about 55 percent of the cows on Valio farms live in such cowsheds. As in previous years, Valio also requires that the animal feed is free of soy and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
- “Finnish cows are already the healthiest in the European Union, which is why, for example, we use antibiotics very little compared to other EU countries. We support and encourage the dairy farmers to focus more than ever on animal welfare,” says Vesa Kaunisto, chairman of the board at Valio. Kaunisto has his own dairy farm of 36 cows in the Ostrobothnian municipality of Veteli, in the west of Finland.
The welfare of animals on Valio farms is good by international standards, and about 96% of the milk received by Valio is in the highest quality category. In Finland, antibiotics are only administered when prescribed by a vet in response to a health problem – they are never prescribed or given preventively. As a result, the use of antibiotics in Finland is markedly less than in Central Europe, for example.
Animal welfare in milk production is important not only as a question of ethics, but also in economic terms. Cattle that are healthy and contented also have a higher milk yield. Increased milk yield is partly explained by the quality of the feed and by progress in breeding. But investing in animal welfare is extremely important in this respect as well.