Raising the bar: How can ethical practices in livestock farming be adopted in the digital age?

By Si Ying Thian

- Last updated on GMT

More research needed to address the digital divide and other ethical concerns as prevalence of livestock farming becomes more widespread © Getty Images
More research needed to address the digital divide and other ethical concerns as prevalence of livestock farming becomes more widespread © Getty Images

Related tags Animal welfare livestock farming Ethics digital livestock feeding Precision feeding Data security

Experts say more research is needed to address the digital divide and other ethical concerns as the prevalence of livestock farming becomes more widespread.

Digital livestock farming (DLF) enables real-time and predictive capabilities through self-learning artificial algorithms.

The ethical considerations around DFL include the digital divide, diminished value of human-animal relationships, privacy and data protection of farmers’ information, bias and discrimination of data points, as well as the prospect of monopoly.

Tackling tech-related ethical concerns

The researcher called for the need to provide access to digital tools and training for all farmers, and user-friendliness of these tools is key. Regular support should also be provided to users given the prevalence of technology obsolescence.

The possibility of animals being objectified as mere data points should be accounted for in the roll-out of DLF. When animals are housed in an automated facility, their welfare might be compromised due to the lack of physical contact and socialisation.

On privacy and data protection, adequate security measures, including secure storage, data anonymisation, and secure data transfer protocols, need to be in place to ensure that data is not misused or exploited by third parties. Some sensitive data include animal health, behaviour, and genetics that could draw personal information about the farmers and their business operations.

On the bias of data, regular testing, validation, and audit of the algorithms is necessary account for the diversity of individual animal differences, leading to inaccurate predictions or decisions.

The possibility of a single multinational company monopolising the digital technology market for agriculture is also highlighted, in which the situation would jeopardise access to small-scale farmers. A monopoly also runs the risk of lack of accountability with respect to the algorithms and modelling.

The researcher pointed to the need for more research to be done on ethical governance, including the development of standards and guidelines for the responsible use of digital technologies in animal agriculture and the establishment of related regulatory frameworks.

On the flipside, how tech tackles other ethical concerns?

An upside of DFL in the ethical pursuit is its ability to account for factors associated with animal contentment.  

For example, DLF provides real-time data on animal health, behaviour, and performance. Thereby, with this information, farmers can intervene early to prevent or treat health issues that lead to better animal welfare.

Additionally, DFL can help farmers to manage resources more efficiently, including feed, water, and energy; thereby, reducing wastage. It is also able to provide transparency of food origins to consumers and therefore, increasing accountability in the industry.

Agriculture being one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, DLF could help to minimise the carbon footprint of livestock farming by offering monitoring methods and even ways to reduce emissions.

For example, the use of precision feeding systems could help reduce feed waste and associated methane emissions, and digital tools and other digital farm processes could be powered with the use of renewable energy sources.

Concluding the paper, the researcher said a need for a multidisciplinary approach involving farmers, researchers, industry organisations, and animal welfare advocates to conduct ongoing research and evaluation on the impact of DLF on animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and ethical considerations.


Source: AgriEngineering

“The Significance and Ethics of Digital Livestock Farming”

Author: Neethirajan, S.


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