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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Animal welfare is the physical and psychological state of non-human animals.[1] The term animal welfare can also mean human concern for animal welfare or a position in a debate on animal ethics and animal rights.[2]

Systematic concern for animal welfare can be based on awareness that non-human animals are sentient and that consideration should be given to their well-being, especially when they are used for food, in animal testing, as pets, or in other ways.[3] These concerns can include how animals are killed for food, how they are used for scientific research, how they are kept as pets, and how human activities affect the survival of endangered species.

An ancient object of concern in some civilizations, animal welfare began to take a larger place in western public policy in 19th century Britain. Today it is a significant focus of interest or activity in veterinary science, in ethics, and in animal welfare organizations.

There are two forms of criticism of the concept of animal welfare, coming from diametrically opposite positions. One view, dating back centuries, asserts that animals are not consciously aware and hence are unable to experience poor welfare. The other view is based on the animal rights position that animals should not be regarded as property and any use of animals by humans is unacceptable. Some authorities thus treat animal welfare and animal rights as two opposing positions.[2] Accordingly, some animal right proponents argue that the perception of better animal welfare facilitates continued and increased exploitation of animals.[4][5] Others see the increasing concern for animal welfare as incremental steps towards animal rights.



In animal ethics, the term animal welfare often means animal welfarism.

In Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary, animal welfare is defined as "the avoidance of abuse and exploitation of animals by humans by maintaining appropriate standards of accommodation, feeding and general care, the prevention and treatment of disease and the assurance of freedom from harassment, and unnecessary discomfort and pain."[6]

D. M. Broom, a professor at Cambridge University Animal Welfare Information Centre,[7] defines the welfare of an animal as "its state as regards its attempts to cope with its environment. This state includes how much it is having to do to cope, the extent to which it is succeeding in or failing to cope, and its associated feelings." He states that "Welfare will vary over a continuum from very good to very poor and studies of welfare will be most effective if a wide range of measures is used."[8]

Animal welfarism

Animal welfarism, also known simply as welfarism or animal welfare,[9][10] is the position that it is morally acceptable for humans to use non-human animals, provided that adverse effects on animal welfare are minimized as far as possible, short of not using the animals at all. An example of welfarist thought is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's meat manifesto.[citation needed] Point three of eight is:

Think about the animals that the meat you eat comes from. Are you at all concerned about how they have been treated? Have they lived well? Have they been fed on safe, appropriate foods? Have they been cared for by someone who respects them and enjoys contact with them? Would you like to be sure of that? Perhaps it’s time to find out a bit more about where the meat you eat comes from. Or to buy from a source that reassures you about these points.[11]

Robert Garner describes the welfarist position as the most widely-held in modern society.[9] He states that one of the best attempts to clarify this position is given by Robert Nozick:[12]

Consider the following (too minimal) position about the treat­ment of animals. So that we can easily refer to it, let us label this position "utilitarianism for animals, Kantianism for people." It says: (1) maximize the total happiness of all living beings; (2) place stringent side constraints on what one may do to human beings. Human beings may not be used or sacrificed for the bene­fit of others; animals may be used or sacrificed for the benefit of other people or animals only if those benefits are greater than the loss inflicted.[13]

Welfarism is often contrasted with the animal rights and animal liberation positions, which hold that animals should not be used by humans, and should not be regarded as their property.[14] However, it has been argued that both welfarism and animal liberation only make sense if you assume that animals have "subjective welfare".[15] There is some evidence that the observed difference between human belief in animal welfare and animal rights originates from two distinct attitudes towards animals: (1) attitudes towards suffering; and (2) reverence for animals.[16]


Motivations to improve the welfare of animals stems from sympathy and empathy. It can also be based on self-interest. For example, animal producers might improve welfare in order to meet consumer demand for products from high welfare systems. Typically, stronger concern is given to animals that are useful to humans (farm animals, pets etc.) than those that are not (pests, wild animals etc.). The different level of sentience that various species possess, or the perception of such differences, also create a shifting level of concern. Somewhat related to this is size, with larger animals being favored.

There is some evidence to suggest that empathy is an inherited trait. Women have greater concern for animals than men in some societies, possibly the result of it being an evolutionarily beneficial trait in societies where women take care of domesticated animals while men hunt. Interestingly, more women have animal phobias than men. But animal phobias are at least partly genetically determined, and this indicates that attitudes towards animals have a genetic component. Also, children exhibit empathy for animals at a very early age , when external influences cannot be an adequate explanation.[17]

Laws punishing cruelty to animals tend to not just be based on welfare concerns but the belief that such behavior has repercussions toward the treatment of other humans by the animal abusers. Another argument against animal cruelty is based on aesthetics.

External factors that affect people's concern for animal welfare includes affluence, education, cultural heritage and religious beliefs. Increased affluence in many regions for the past few decades afforded consumers the disposable income to purchase products from high welfare systems.[18] The adaptation of more economically efficient farming systems in these regions were at the expense of animal welfare and to the financial benefit of consumers, both of which were factors in driving the demand for higher welfare for farm animals.

Interest in animal welfare continues to grow, with increasing attention being paid to it by the media, governmental and non-governmental organizations. The volume of scientific research on animal welfare has also increased significantly.[19]

History, principles, practice

Systematic concern for the well-being of other animals probably arose in the Indus Valley Civilization as the religious ancestors return in animal form, and that animals must therefore be killed with the respect due to a human. This belief is exemplified in the existing religion, Jainism, and in varieties of other Indian religions. Other religions, specially those with roots in the Abrahamic religions, treat animals as the property of their owners, codifying rules for their care and slaughter intended to limit the distress, pain and fear animals experience under human control.

From the outset in 1822, when British MP Richard Martin shepherded a bill through Parliament offering protection from cruelty to cattle, horses, and sheep (earning himself the nickname Humanity Dick), the welfare approach has had human morality, and humane behaviour, at its central concern. Martin was among the founders of the world's first animal welfare organization, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or SPCA, in 1824. In 1840, Queen Victoria gave the society her blessing, and it became the RSPCA. The society used members' donations to employ a growing network of inspectors, whose job was to identify abusers, gather evidence, and report them to the authorities.

But significant progress in animal welfare did not take place until the late 20th century.[20] In 1965, the UK government commissioned an investigation - led by Professor Roger Brambell - into the welfare of intensively farmed animals, partly in response to concerns raised in Ruth Harrison's 1964 book, Animal Machines. On the basis of Professor Brambell's report, the UK government set up the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee in 1967, which became the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1979. The committee's first guidelines recommended that animals require the freedoms to "stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves and stretch their limbs". The guidelines have since been elaborated to become known as the Five Freedoms:[21]

  • Freedom from thirst and hunger - by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  • Freedom from discomfort - by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease - by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  • Freedom to express normal behavior - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.
  • Freedom from fear and distress - by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

A number of animal welfare organisations are campaigning to achieve a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW) at the United Nations. In principle, the Universal Declaration will call on the United Nations to recognise animals as sentient beings, capable of experiencing pain and suffering, and to recognise that animal welfare is an issue of importance as part of the social development of nations worldwide. The campaign to achieve the UDAW is being co-ordinated by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, with a core working group including Compassion in World Farming, the RSPCA, and the Humane Society International (The international branch of HSUS).[22]

Farm animals

Concern for farm animals is mainly focused on factory farming, where farm animals are raised in confinement at high stocking density. Issues revolve around the limiting of natural behavior in animals (see battery cage, veal and gestation crate), and invasive procedures such as debeaking and mulesing. Other issues include methods of animal slaughter, especially ritual slaughter.

While the killing of animals need not necessarily involve suffering, the general public considers killing an animal an act that reduces its welfare.[23] This leads to concerns with premature slaughtering, such as the chick culling. This applies in a lesser extent to all food animals.

Animal welfare science is an emerging field that seeks to answer questions raised by the use of animals, such as whether hens are frustrated when confined in cages, or whether the psychological well-being of animals in laboratories can be maintained.[24]

Laboratory animals

In animal testing, the well-being of individual animals tend to be overriden by the potential benefits their sacrifice can bring to a large number of other animals or people. This utilitarian approach might allow intense suffering to be inflicted on individual animals if the trade-off is considered worthwhile, while a more welfare-based approach would afford all animals the right to a minimum standard of welfare.

Other welfare issues includes the quality of animal sources and housing conditions.


At one time, many people denied that animals could feel anything, and thus the concept of animal welfare was meaningless. For example, many Cartesians were of this opinion. Descartes wrote that animals act "without consciousness", much like a machine.[25]. In addition, there are accounts of Descartes visiting slaughter houses to observe how animals died. Believing that the animals were devoid of sentience, Descartes thought the death throes of animals was akin to "taking apart a spring-driven clock"[citation needed]. In the Discourse, published in 1637, Descartes wrote that the ability to reason and use language involves being able to respond in complex ways to all the "contingencies of life", something that animals "clearly cannot do". He argued from this that any sounds animals make do not constitute language, but are simply "automatic responses to external stimuli".[26]

Animal rights advocates, such as Gary L. Francione and Tom Regan, argue that the animal welfare position (advocating for the betterment of the condition of animals, but without abolishing animal use) is inconsistent in logic and ethically unacceptable. However, there are some animal rights groups, such as PETA, which support animal welfare measures in the short term to alleviate animal suffering until all animal use is ended. According to PETA's Ingrid Newkirk in an interview with Wikinews, there are two issues in animal welfare and animal rights. "If I only could have one thing, it would be to end suffering," said Newkirk. "If you could take things from animals and kill animals all day long without causing them suffering, then I would take it...Everybody should be able to agree that animals should not suffer if you kill them or steal from them by taking the fur off their backs or take their eggs, whatever. But you shouldn’t put them through torture to do that."[27]

Abolitionism (animal rights) holds that focusing on animal welfare not only fails to challenge animal suffering, but may actually prolong it by making the exercise of property rights over animals appear less unattractive. The abolitionists' objective is to secure a moral and legal paradigm shift, whereby animals are no longer regarded as property.

Most animal welfarists argue that the animal rights view goes too far. They advocate, rather than the elimination of all animal use or companionship, that humans should be accountable for a moral responsibility not to cause cruelty (unnecessary suffering) to other animals, at the very least.

See also


  1. ^ Hewson, Caroline J. (2003). "What is animal welfare? Common definitions and their practical consequences". The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 
  2. ^ a b Francione, Gary Lawrence (1996). Rain without thunder: the ideology of the animal rights movement. 
  3. ^ Draft of the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
  4. ^ Garner, Robert. Animal Ethics. Polity Press, 2005; Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights, University of California Press, 1983.
  5. ^ Francione, Gary. Animals, Property, and the Law. Temple University Press, 1995.
  6. ^ See
  7. ^ Broom, D. M. (2000). "The welfare of deer, foxes, mink and hares subjected to hunting by humans: a review". Evidence to the Burns Inquiry. 
  8. ^ Broom, D. M. (1996). "Animal welfare defined in terms of attempts to cope with the environment". Acta agriculturae Scandinavica. Section A, Animal science. 
  9. ^ a b Garner, Robert. Animal Ethics. Polity Press, 2005, pp. 15-16.
  10. ^ Bekoff, Marc (2009). "Animal Emotions, Animal Sentience, Animal Welfare, and Animal Rights". 
  11. ^ Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugh (2009). "My Meat Manifesto". 
  12. ^ Garner, Robert. Animal Ethics. Polity Press, 2005, pp. 72
  13. ^ Nozick, Robert (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. 
  14. ^ Garner 2005, p. 15; also see Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation, Random House, 1975; Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights, University of California Press, 1983; Francione, Gary. Animals, Property, and the Law. Temple University Press, 1995; this paperback edition 2007.
  15. ^ Taylor, Angus. Animals and Ethics. Broadview Press, 2003, p. 88; Garner 2005, p. 15.
  16. ^ Meng, Jenia (2009). 'Origins of Attitudes towards Animals'. 
  17. ^ Phillips 2009. The Welfare Of Animals: The Silent Majoritypp 50, 52-53.
  18. ^ Phillips 2009. pp 60-63.
  19. ^ Phillips 2009. p 60.
  20. ^ Phillips 2009. p 56.
  21. ^ Five Freedoms Farm Animal Welfare Council
  22. ^ Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare Compassion in World Farming
  23. ^ Phillips 2009. p 10.
  24. ^ Fraser, David. Understanding animal welfare: the science in its cultural context. John Wiley and Sons, 2008, p. 8.
  25. ^ Midgley, Mary. "Descartes Prisoners", The New Statesman, May 24, 1999.
  26. ^ Descartes, René. Discourse on the Method. First published 1637, cited in Cottingham, John. "Descartes, René" in Honderich, Ted. (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 188-192.
  27. ^ Interview with Ingrid Newkirk, David Shankbone, Wikinews, November 20, 2007.

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