Tuesday, 6 November 2012

What is animal welfare?

There are several explanations and definitions about what welfare is.Hurnik's theory states that welfare is a feature of the animal itself. Animal welfare is based on needs:  the ability to fulfill these needs sets the level of welfare. The animal must be able to fulfill its needs which support life (hunger, thirst, reproduction), health and comfort.  Broom's theory is based on adaptation: animal welfare is low, if the animal has conscious or unconscious problems coping with its environment. Sickness, fertility problems and pain are some indications of adaptation problems.  Moberg's theory concerns stress, which is caused by the animal's inability to maintain bodily balance with the environment. The animal may be chained so that it cannot clean itself or move away if it feels hot or cold. According to Moberg, welfare suffers if the stress is strong and continuous, or if the animal's attempts at adaptation are ineffective. In a feeling-based theory by Duncan and Petherick welfare depends only on mental needs. If the animal feels it has fulfilled its needs, its welfare is good. Sickness or injury do not thus decrease welfare, if they don't bother the animal itself. Health-based theories place physical health as the indicator for welfare. Welfare is decreased only when there are pathological changes, and the biological functions of the animal are transformed in some way.

Finally, a common and wide-spread "theory" is based on freedom. In 1993, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) published Five Freedoms:
  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst - by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort - by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease - by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress - by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
These five freedoms clearly indicate that welfare is both physical and mental, and it is based on how the animal feels. Several factors affect welfare and one another. Food, water, environment, caretaker, health, behaviour and animal breeding are all equally important. Welfare cannot be turned on or off, and it cannot be simply measured. Consider this: animals cannot speak any more than new born human babies. How would you go about ensuring a baby's welfare?

Animal rights vs animal welfare comparison from http://www.animalsuffering.com/resources/images/Animal-Rights-vs-Animal-Welfare/, originally from Animal Rights Fund newsletter:


Farm animal welfare council FAWC
Companion animal welfare council CAWC

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