Discussion Forum 2023 - Meet the speakers: Jonathan Statham


Jonathan is currently Chair of the Animal Health & Welfare Board of England (AHWBE). He is a qualified vet and partner at the Bishopton Veterinary Group in Yorkshire, with years of experience of working with the farming industry. He is also Chief Executive Officer at RAFT Solutions Ltd, an innovation led sustainability company combining applied research with advanced breeding, food futures, consultancy and training.

Q: What sparked your interest in the topic?

As a farm veterinary surgeon I have always been interested in animal welfare and the shared responsibilities for animals under our care. I have also had a longstanding interest in sustainable herd health and the need for balance in the ‘One health’ concept which encompasses animal, human and environment elements. The need to establish an objective evidence based approach to decision support for welfare assessment is paramount and emerging technologies are changing the landscape of kept animals and the information available to care for welfare needs in society.

Q:  Why is this topic particularly relevant now? 

The need to understand and manage the sustainability balance has never been greater. Concerns regarding animal welfare sit alongside great uncertainty with food security and our UK obligations under the 25year environment plan. Current topics include the Precision Breeding bill, Animal Health & Welfare Pathway, companion animals and the cost of living crisis impacting on welfare needs of rescue dogs/cats. The veterinary profession sits in a pivotal position to help manage this balance. However the demands on already very busy professionals are not receding; we are often time poor and the pressure on our resources are real. If veterinary surgeons are to show effective leadership in this area then we should embrace education and training to ‘skill-up’.

Q: What are the key issues of your topic?

The key issues of my topic are how to consider the role of technology in delivering the sustainable balance outlined above. In particular, how can we ensure that technology does not inappropriately displace the essential role of people and specifically skilled professionals in supporting animal welfare? Therefore, can technology offer key information that will support evidence-based decision making alongside human input? Could technology provide the repeated measures of time-series data that could populate a welfare trajectory available between the time-consuming and resource heavy-but invaluable- assessments by appropriately trained people? We therefore need new and validated metrics that can deliver this functionality.

Q: What are you hoping delegates will take away from your session?

I hope that delegates will take away from my session the perspective of a sustainable balance that prioritises animal welfare while acknowledging the broad needs of One health-which include mitigating impacts on the environment, the evolutionary interactions between animals and the soil microbiome, the need for food security and human health and wellbeing through risk management of zoonotic disease and antimicrobial resistance. I hope delegates will consider how it could be appropriate to manage this balance with sound information and how technology could provide some of this information, but will need educated trained professionals to use it appropriately.

Q: Are there any statistics, research, new developments, or case studies that you can share with us about the topic?

Defra’s Animal Health & Welfare Pathway in England is an example of a new opportunity for veterinary surgeons to deliver on welfare responsibilities while supporting a sustainable balance at farm level. Government funding for technology grants are linking these themes together as technology adoption increases and offers both challenges and opportunities for the future.

Q: What comes next?

Opportunities are out there for making connections between technology and welfare. There is a need to innovate in this space.