Assessment of the multi-criteria evaluation system of the Welfare Quality® protocol for growing pigs
Animal welfare has become an important subject of public and political debate, leading to the necessity of an objective evaluation system for on-farm use. As welfare is a multi-dimensional concept, it makes sense to use a multi-criteria aggregation system to obtain an overall welfare score. Such an aggregation system is provided by the Welfare Quality® Network. The present paper focusses on the assessment of the multi-criteria evaluation model included in the Welfare Quality® protocol for growing pigs in order to aggregate the animal-based indicators first to criteria, then to principles and finally to an overall welfare score. Specifically, the importance of the indicators on the overall assessment of growing pig farms is analysed in a given population which consisted of a total of 198 protocol assessments carried out on a sample of 24 farms in Germany. By means of partial least squares modelling, the influence of measures in the calculation procedure is estimated by calculation and interpretation of Variable Importance for Projection (VIP) scores. Variable Importance for Projection scores revealed some meaningful, unexpected influences as the multi-criteria evaluation model of Welfare Quality® aimed at avoiding interferences and double-counting. Some of these influences led to the assumption that some measures might have potential as iceberg indicators, whereas others showed lesser importance. Thus, feasibility can be gained by the deletion and special weighting of indicators according to their importance. Altogether, the study is an essential contribution to the further development of the Welfare Quality® protocols as well as the application of multi-criteria decision systems in the field of animal welfare science in general.