Animal welfare

From Academic Kids

Animal welfare is the viewpoint that some or all animals, especially those under human care, should be treated in such a way that they do not suffer unnecessarily. 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

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 south east Asian 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

As in the case of animal rights, the secular forms taken by animal welfare concerns, policies and action have each been pioneered in the UK, where an early industrial revolution first created the modern separation between popular experience and animal husbandry, opening a space for popular sentimentality towards animals.

From the outset in 1822, when Richard Martin MP shepherded a bill offering protection from cruelty to cattle, horses and sheep (earning himself the nickname Humanity Dick) through Parliament, the welfare approach has had human morality, and humane behaviour, at its central concern. Martin was among the founders of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or SPCA, in 1824. In 1840 Queen Victoria gave the society her blessing, making it the RSPCA familiar to modern Britons. 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. Welfare advocates to this day argue that cruelty to animals is a reliable predictor of other moral weaknesses and risk factors, thus warranting intervention.

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 behaviour for the species
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

Animal Welfare compared with Animal Rights

Many animal rights and animal welfare advocates make a clear distinction between the two philosophies. To argue for animal rights, one needs a general meta-ethical outlook that is based on rights. To argue for animal welfare, one can be a consequentialist. Tom Regan argues for animal rights, while the utilitarian Peter Singer argues for animal welfare.

Most animal welfarists argue that the animal rights view goes too far, and do not advocate the elimination of all animal use or companionship. Animal rights advocates, such as Gary L. Francione, 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:

  • animal exploiters' animal welfare: the reassurance from those who use animals that they already treat animals well
  • 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 philosophy championed by Peter Singer, which strives to minimize suffering but accepts some animal use for the 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

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

Animal welfare principles are codified by positive law in many nations, but animal rights are recognized in none.

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 has argued that Descartes himself did not hold such a view. This kind of view may also have been held by some behaviourists, but there is a logical problem involved in going from: 'there is no scientific evidence that the rats in my lab are suffering' to 'the rats in my lab are not suffering', particularly as the behaviourist idea of what constitutes scientific evidence makes settling issues concerning suffering impossible.

More recent critiques have used arguments inspired by Wittgenstein to argue that some kinds of suffering and joy are only available to language users. Only humans, and tendentiously, chimpanzees, have sufficient linguistic capability.

See also


  • John Cottingham, '"A Brute to the Brutes?" Descartes' Treatment of Animals' Philosophy 53 1978, pp. 551-559
  • Michael Leahy, Against Liberation - Putting Animals in Perspective Routledge 1991
  • Peter Singer, Animal Liberation

External links


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