Ensuring the welfare of the farmed donkey for the production of milk: an analysis of the legislation

Donkey’s milk is a valuable product for paediatric patients with allergy to cow milk proteins. As the donkey milk qualifies as a product intended primarily for consumers with special needs, it should be of good quality and therefore the donkeys must enjoy good health and welfare.

To better understand how dairy donkeys’ welfare is assured around Europe, an analysis of EU, Italian and Regional Legislation about welfare of donkeys used to produce milk was conducted. According to 98/58/EC Directive, donkeys kept for milk/meat production should be considered as farm animals. This Directive, without being species-specific, lays down minimum standards for the protection of animals bred or kept for farming purposes.

European Regulation 37/2010 and Italian Dlgs 193/2006 report the rules on the use of veterinary drugs. A veterinarian must prescribe pharmacologically active substances and commend an appropriate withdrawal period to ensure that food derived from treated animals does not contain residues harmful to consumers. No specific information regarding drugs for dairy donkeys is reported and it is unclear what happens in reality when a lactating jenny needs treatment.

Three Italian Regions (Piemonte, Emilia Romagna and Veneto) have specific regulations about donkey milk production. The “D.D. 461 17/06/2013”, “Circolare 17 05/10/2005” and “ALLEGATO A Dgr 513 03/04/2012” report requirements for milk production to guarantee adequate food safety and generically suggest that donkeys should be kept in good welfare conditions.

In addition, Italian guidelines “Codice per la Tutela e la Gestione degli Equidi” provides essential criteria for proper management of equines, according to good practices and ethical behaviour; they give suggestions about nutrition and water provision, stable management, training, identification documents, transport, euthanasia, education of farmers.

Our work highlights that protecting welfare of donkeys used to produce milk may be affected by a lack of specific legislation. As a first step, the development of specific guidelines would help to improve their welfare.

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