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Animal welfare

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Animal welfare is the viewpoint that animals, especially those under human care, should not suffer unnecessarily, including where the animals are used for food, work, companionship, or research. This position usually focuses on the morality of human action (or inaction), as opposed to making deeper political or philosophical claims about the status of animals, as is the case for an animal rights viewpoint. For this reason animal welfare organizations may use the word humane in their title or position statements.

History of animal welfare

Systematic concern for the well-being of other animals probably first arose as a system of thought in the Indus Valley Civilization as the religious belief that ancestors return in animal form, and that animals must therefore be treated with the respect due to a human. This belief is exemplified in the existing religion, Jainism, and in varieties of other Dharmic religions. Other religions, especially those with roots in the Abrahamic religion, treat animals as the property of their owners, codifying rules for their care and slaughter premised mainly on hygiene concerns for humans.

Welfare in practice

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.

Similar groups sprang up elsewhere in Europe and then in North America. The first such group in the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was chartered in the state of New York in 1866.

Animal welfare for taste reasons

There is a growing contemporary movement among leading chefs that meat should have come from free-range sources where the animal has been well-treated. This has less to do with concern for the animal (although this is a factor), and the claim that well-cared-for meat tastes better.

Key proponents of high-quality slow-reared meat within cookery include Fergus Henderson [1] proponent of 'nose to tail cooking', Raymond Blanc and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, well known for his personal stock of animals, which he raises himself and slaughters.

Modern Western consumers can now choose between mass-produced meat (particularly pork, where high-quality meat will be raised outside while cheaper pork comes from pigs kept in small individual pens) and poultry costing a few dollars a kilo, and free-range animals, which typically costs three or more times as much.

Critics say that those arguing for higher quality meat do so from the position of wealth, and those less privileged cannot afford such high-quality food. Conversely it is argued that the current profusion of cheap protein is unnatural, and that the modern diet consists of too much meat. Certainly in comparison to previous generations, food expenditure represents a lower part of the average household's expenditure. Furthermore, it is argued that the greater use of lower grade cuts from well-treated meat, which tend to be flavoursome while tough, can offset the increased cost.

Welfare principles

The UK government commissioned an investigation into the welfare of intensively farmed animals from Professor Roger Brambell in 1965, 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 'turn around, to groom themselves, to get up, to lie down and to stretch their limbs'. These have since been elaborated to become known as the Five Freedoms of animal welfare:

The five freedoms

  1. Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition.
  2. Freedom from discomfort due to environment
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior for the species
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

Animal welfare compared with animal rights

Most animal welfarists argue that the animal rights view goes too far, and do not advocate the elimination of all animal use or companionship. They may believe that humans have a moral responsibility not to cause cruelty (unnecessary suffering) to animals. 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: see veganism) is logically inconsistent 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.

Canadian ethicist David Sztybel distinguishes six different types of animal welfare views[1]:

  • animal exploiters' animal welfare: the reassurance from animal industry publicists that they treat animals "well" (e.g., spokespersons for the animal slaughter industry)
  • commonsense animal welfare: the average person's concern to avoid cruelty and be kind to animals
  • humane animal welfare: a more principled opposition to cruelty to animals, which does not reject most animal-using practices (except perhaps the use of animals for fur and sport)
  • animal liberationist animal welfare: a viewpoint which strives to minimize suffering but accepts some animal use for the perceived greater good, such as the use of animals in some medical research
  • new welfarism: a term coined by Gary Francione to refer to the belief that measures to improve the lot of animals used by humans will lead to the abolition of animal use
  • animal welfare/animal rights views which do not distinguish the two

Sztybel, in "The Rights of Animal Persons,"[2] (2006) adds the sense of "animal welfare" as a misleading euphemism for how we treat animals by harming them for food, clothing, experiments, and so on. Using a model of Levels of Harmful Discrimination, Sztybel concludes that if the same fate befell humans, even if efforts were made to be "kind," it would be considered an ill fate--hence the term "animal illfare" rather than "animal welfare." Sztybel argues that animal welfare only occurs under conditions of animal rights: when the wellness or good of animals is made the highest priority, so that animals are benefited but not avoidably harmed.

Other views of animal welfare exist which are not included in Sztybel's list.

Animal welfare principles are codified by positive law in many nations.

Criticisms of animal welfare

At one time, many people denied that animals could feel anything, and thus had no interests. Many Cartesians were of this opinion, though Cottingham (1978) has argued that Descartes himself did not hold such a view.

An additional critique regards animal welfarism in practice, arguing that welfarists demonstrate disproportional concern for some species of animals over others without providing rational/scientific justification for such preferences. E.g., some critics say the movement favors companion animals over commercial animals, wild over domestic animals, or mammals over birds/reptiles/fishes. For example, the welfare movement commonly opposes anesthetized declawing of pet cats by veterinarians, but rarely contests the unanesthetized toe cutting of commercial birds by poultry workers. The critique is that much animal welfarism, in practice, is as prejudicial as an anthropocentric anti-welfarist view. [citation needed]

See also

  • Animals on television
  • Animal rights
  • Animal liberation movement
  • Animal testing
  • Rescue group
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Factory farming


  1. ^ Sztybel, David. "Distinguishing Animal Rights from Animal Welfare." In Bekoff, Marc (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998, pp. 130-132.
  2. ^ Sztybel, David. "The Rights of Animal Persons," Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal 4 (1) (2006): 1-37.

External links

  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
  • An Animal-Friendly Life
  • Animal Welfare Institute
  • [ research project on Farm Animal Welfare)
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • A Useful Collection of Anti-Vivisection/Animal Testing Resources
  • Last Chance for Animals
  • VeggieBoards
  • Open Directory Project - Animal Welfare Organizations directory category
  • US Library of Congress - Selected Internet Resources Animal Welfare, Companion Animals and Veterinary Science

Animal Welfare Organizations

  • YOU can make a difference through humane education!
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in 1866 - the oldest animal welfare organization in the United States
  • Animal Welfare Institute - (AWI)
  • Humane Society of the United States
  • International Fund for Animal Welfare
  • Welfare for Animals Global
  • RSPCA Australia
  • Foundation for Animal Use Education
  • Sierra Network of Animal Advocates
  • Society for Animal Protective Legislation - (SAPL)
  • Give a Dog a Bone
  • The Pettifor Trust - Devoted to the Welfare of Animals
  • Animal Welfare For the promotion of Animal welfare
  • Husbandry Institute Promoting sustainable, responsible, and ethical animal husbandry
  • USDA, Animal Welfare Information Center
  • World Society for the Protection of Animals
  • UK Animal Welfare Groups and Associations
  • Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Ireland founded in 1840
  • Legacy Boxer Rescue:
  • The Fox Project [2] UK fox information bureau and rescue charity
  • Compassion Unlimited Plus Action, Bangalore, India [3]
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