A Beijing-based animal welfare centre spearheaded by Queensland researchers has begun delving into projects on topics including cold stress in sheep, the transportation of fish to markets and the economics of improving welfare practices within its first six months of operations.
The Sino-Australian Animal Welfare Centre, started mid last-year, ties into the wider International Animal Welfare Standards Project.
Project manager Michelle Sinclair said while all relevant partners were signed up, the physical centre would open later this year, after gaining all the necessary approvals in China.
"It can be a bit slow going, because we want to make sure it is established in a sustainable way, that fits into all of the governing rules in China," she said.
Ms Sinclair said the centre was involved in some unique research projects such as looking at cold stress in sheep being farmed in extreme weather.
"Professor Clive Phillips from UQ just visited Inner Mongolia to work along side our partners in -26 degrees, measuring the body temperature, and other biological indicators that might indicate stress," she said.
"Other projects include investigation into the welfare of fish being transported to markets and restaurants, modelling of the economics of improving farming systems and practices for chicken welfare, better understanding what might motivate Chinese livestock leaders to engaging with improving animal welfare."
Ms Sinclair held focus groups with livestock leaders across China, as part of her PhD research to look at the attitudes towards improving animal welfare and the barriers to such changes.
"In China, for example, livestock leaders cited that the most compelling reasons for looking to improve animal welfare included improved meat quality, improved taste of product, and stronger and healthier animals that need less antibiotics and thus reducing antimicrobial resistance," she said.
"Understanding where Chinese livestock leaders are coming from can help find mutual ground, form a base for collaborations, and, advise the development of animal welfare standards.
"I think this body of work really highlights the need for farm animal welfare advocates around the world to respectfully work with leaders in livestock, and how fruitful the results can be when we do."
Ms Sinclair said African Swine Fever had affected plans to home in on pig welfare, which had been tipped as a focus point given the high proportion of pigs raised in China.
"China were the largest industry for pigs, responsible for 60 per cent of the world's pork, however a large portion of their pigs died or were culled after African Swine Flu spread across Chinese mainland," she said.
"For biosecurity reasons, we haven't commenced any of our pig welfare plans just yet, and Chinese research teams are very busy trying to understand the disease, how it is spreading and how to stop it.
"However, our partners in Beijing are due to start a study into the welfare of piglets exposed to different temperatures in farming, and the centre also has plans this year to start developing model farms for pigs, along with chickens, fish and cattle."
Plans for the centre in 2020 include starting more research projects with partners in China, developing more Mandarin training resources in Chinese, hosting welfare webinars with world leaders in Mandarin, creating videos explaining animal behaviour and running more animal welfare champion workshops.