Animal Health and Welfare Programme


For quite a number of years already, Milk SA is engaged in a number of research projects related to animal health, such as in respect of liver fluke, mastitis and sporidesmin induced liver disease.

Dr Mark Chimes BVSc (on the right), a veterinarian, fills key positions in respect of the Animal Health & Welfare work programme of Milk South Africa, namely:

  • Milk SA Programme Manager: Animal Health & Welfare
  • Representing Milk SA as Council Member on the National Animal Health Forum
  • Milk SA representative on the Livestock Welfare Coordinating Committee
  • Member of the Dairy Research & Development Committee

As animal health is of wider concern than only the dairy industry, Milk SA and other livestock organizations established the National Animal Health Forum (NAHF) in 2006. The NAHF endeavours to resolve matters through positive liaison with the Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), the Provincial Agricultural Departments and other government departments.

Visit the NAHF website:

As is the case with other agro-processing sectors, the dairy industry is exposed to significant risks – varying from public criticism of corporate responsibility – to issues of sustainability relating to animal welfare, biosecurity, biotechnology, environment, food safety and many others. In the last few years, animal welfare in particular has been gaining momentum in the global agenda.

The programme has developed includes guidelines and audits that are are aligned with i.a. the World Organization for Animal Health (Office International des Epizooties 2013) and the National Standards of the SABS (SANS1694:2018). Milk SA is also a member of the Livestock Welfare Coordinating Committee (LWCC). Visit the LWCC website at:

According to the OIEan animal is in a good state if it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express its innate behaviour and is not suffering from negative states such as pain, fear and distress. Apart from disease prevention and veterinary treatment, good animal welfare requires appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling, transport and eventually – humane slaughter.

While this definition is accepted internationally, what people interpret to be acceptable animal welfare can be influenced by many factors including personal values, religion, nationality, gender, previous experiences, age, socio-economic status and education.

It is important to understand not only what welfare is, but also that the health and welfare of an animal are closely linked; and that just as the health status of an animal influences its welfare, so the welfare influences its health. Stressful situations, such as negative treatment by a stockperson or ongoing aggressive interactions with other animals in the herd, will result in physiological and behavioural changes in the animal. If the stressor is prolonged, becoming chronic, it can affect the immunity of the cow, making her more susceptible to disease. Poor welfare is also linked to reduced productivity, inhibiting the cow’s capacity to reproduce and reducing milk yield and body condition. 

In addition to the direct influence on animals as part of sustainable livestock production systems, public perceptions of farm animal welfare issues have the potential to significantly affect the security / sustainability of the dairy industry.

To ensure effective responses to negative comments regarding the welfare of dairy cattle, the extent of compliance with the SABS standard SANS 1694: The Welfare of Dairy Cattle, is therefore extremely important. The Dairy Standard Agency – with the assistance of MPO, SAMPRO and other stakeholders – has developed an auditable set of criteria to measure compliance with relevant animal welfare standards at milk production level. The purpose of these outcome-based driven auditable and assessment criteria is mainly to assist dairy farmers in the process of identifying risk areas, evaluating risks and implementing management practices relating to the increased welfare of dairy cattle.

Obviously, it is not adequate for the organized dairy industry to respond to negative comments regarding the welfare of dairy animals, by statements of which the messages are that only a SABS standard exists and that the Dairy Standard Agency developed an audit instrument to measure compliance with the SABS standards.    

From a management perspective, the development and implementation of documented animal welfare systems and auditing are beneficial in view of the following:

  • If effectively applied, this is a key to the proactive identification of animal health and welfare risks, as well as the evaluation and control thereof;
  • Communication between input suppliers and role-players, including veterinarians and milk buyers, improves;
  • Communication between management and personnel, based on sound documented information, improves quality decision-making processes;
  • Measurable criteria have a direct influence on the improvement of herd health and animal welfare if remedial actions are consistently implemented on non-conformities;
  • Compliance with auditable criteria of a high standard automatically leads to compliance with legal requirements;
  • Sale of livestock and / or certification for export purposes are far more achievable.