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Animal welfare is the viewpoint that animals, especially those under human care, should not suffer.

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 Indian 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 intended to limit the distress, pain and fear animals experience under human control.

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. Organizations commonly associated with the welfare view in the United States today include the AVMA.

Today, a number of religious denominations have added animal welfare to their list of ministry concerns. Animal-related ethics courses, animal blessings, prayer for animals and animal ministries have increased in popularity. In 2007, the Interfaith Association of Animal Chaplains was formed to assist clergy members concerned about animals and their welfare to network and share information easily over the internet. A number of Animal Chaplain's books and websites reference scriptural passages from the world's sacred texts supporting animal welfare.

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.

The animal rightist perspective on animal welfare

  1. REDIRECT Template:Animal liberation

Canadian ethicist David Sztybel distinguishes six different types of animal welfare views from his perspective as an animal rightist and animal liberationist:[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 (abolitionism): 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 - this goes by the term Speciesism. 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.

The movement is also open to criticism for targeting mostly those practices for cosmetic reasons, rather than ones of genuine welfare. For example, the debeaking of hens is unsightly, but is used to prevent cannibalism. Welfarists though, often point out that there would be no cannibalism among the hens if they weren't kept in such stressful environments to begin with.

Regional differences

British-style animal welfare has an emphasis on avoiding pain even if this means killing the animal. For example, killing laying hens after a single laying season as a means of avoiding the discomfort of forced molting. In the U.S., people often find this viewpoint shocking.

Urban/rural differences are also typical. People with a rural background see animals as a more complex and pervasive element of their lives. For example, when a farmer shoots a coyote to protect his chickens, the idea that the coyote's fur must be thrown away (due to anti-fur regulations) may seem not only arbitrary and wasteful, but also disrespectful to the coyote.

Animal welfare groups

See main article: List of animal welfare groups

See also


  1. Sztybel, David. "Distinguishing Animal Rights from Animal Welfare." In Marc Bekoff (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.

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