Define Animal Welfare

So today in one of my animal science classes, we were discussing the 5 major definitions when it comes to animal welfare.  It brought a lot of thoughts up in my head while she discussed what people consider when considering how to treat animals.

For example, one way considered to define animal welfare is through emotions. The major emotions being anger, joy, fear and happiness. Now obviously there are times when you can tell if an animal is scared. However, there is not a single human being in our world, nor has there ever been, that can communicate fluently with animals. As humans we do not communicate our feelings well even though we communicate within a species. If you are sitting by someone and they seem tense do you infer that that are mad, angry, stressed, upset, hurt or maybe just tired? WE cannot even figure out what another humans emotions are. How can we assume that we know what the emotions of another species are?

Another accepted “theory” on how to define animal welfare is to allow the animal to select their resources. This includes allowing the animal to select space, flooring and parturition sites. How many humans do we allow to pick whatever flooring or space they want? We don’t. Now tell me, how can we honestly believe that the welfare of the animal depends on them receiving their desires instead of their actual needs? We don’t allow people to do it, so why should people expect us to allow animals to?

Still haven’t found a good definition in my book. What about the idea that can define animal welfare is that the animal be in a natural environment and let their instincts take over. Well most domesticated animals today are just that, DOMESTICATED. Over time they have genetically changed to become what they are today. They have lost most of their natural instincts. Think about it this way, if we were to put three teenagers in the woods with no protection, no food, no water and no shelter for 2 months, how many of the three would survive? Humans do not have the instincts that we once did to survive with nothing. We expect certain things like having a gun for protection or having a sack filled with food and water. Animals also need similar protection. They need shelter from predators and feed to help them survive. How is putting them in their original, natural environment in the best interest of the animal?? If a sow is in a farrowing crate the mortality rate of her litter is only 10% when in a natural environment the mortality rate can be up to 30%. How is that better for the animal?

The next accepted definition is getting closer to my idea of welfare. It is considered to be the 5 freedoms.  The 5 freedoms are the freedom from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain injury or death,  from fear and distress, and freedom to express normal behavior. However, the 5 freedoms can be very objective. How can we have rules and regulations based on subjectivity? If a farmer and Michael J. Fox were put in the same room to set these standards I can assure you that we would not come to an agreement. Subjectivity is a dangerous thing to have in any type of definition. Parts of the 5 freedoms are not objective. But the parts that are, make the definition not as solid as it could be.

The last definition is the one I agree with the most when it comes to animal welfare. It is called the biological-functioning based approach. This basically asks if there are any biological costs associated with the environment. Does the animal have trouble reproducing or growing? Is the species having more injury, disease or death? All of these biological costs come from the animal not being able to adapt to an environment. If an animal cannot adapt to an environment they will not be happy, they will not reproduce and they will not provide efficiency for humans. Anyone working with animals do not want this to happen because their livelihood includes the animals living and doing well.

So how do you define animal welfare? Has our society taken the definition too far? Are people trying to give animals more of a life than some humans even have? Hmmmm some interesting things to contemplate.

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