Animal welfare is increasingly acknowledged as an issue of major ethical and practical importance. Science has now confirmed that non-human animals are sentient beings who share with us consciousness, emotions, feelings, perceptions – and the ability to experience pain, suffering and states of well-being. Just like us they have biologically-determined natures, instincts and needs which are important to them. This underlines the necessity to acknowledge each individual animal’s intrinsic value, and the fact that every single animal is not only worthy of respect and care, but also deserves to live a life that is meaningful without unnecessary human exploitation or interference.
The concept of animal welfare is evolving over time in line with ethical, scientific and policy developments. It is now more complex and developed than in early days when it was considered only in relation to absence of cruelty or ‘unnecessary suffering’. Meanwhile it is generally defined using a number of concepts including: sentience; needs, interests and emotions; physical, mental and natural states (‘telos’); and the five freedoms. It follows that animals should have a good quality of life (enjoying physical, mental and emotional well-being; including the ability to live meaningful and natural lives, where they are able to meet their species-specific and ethological needs and behaviors) and a humane death.
The definition of animal welfare currently used by the OIE is:
“Animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress.”
“Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and appropriate veterinary treatment, shelter, management and nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter or killing. Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment.”
The OIE has ‘Guiding Principles for Animal Welfare’, which were included in its Terrestrial Animal Health Code from 2004. These categorically state that: ‘The use of animals carries with it an ethical responsibility to ensure the welfare of such animals to the greatest extent practicable.’
The Five Freedoms
Also included amongst the OIE’s Guiding Principles are the internationally recognized ‘Five Freedoms’ which were originally published by the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) in 1979 (although they originated in the ‘Brambell Report’, which dated back to 1965), and have been adapted slightly since their formulation. These are as follows:
- Freedom from Hunger and Thirst and Malnutrition – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor;
- Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering;
- Freedom from Physical and Thermal Discomfort – by providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;
- Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment; and
- Freedom to Express Normal Patterns of Behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.
The ‘Five Freedoms’ provide valuable guidance on animal welfare needs; and they cover all three of the states identified above (physical, mental and natural states).
WAN’s Model Animal Welfare Act defines Animal Welfare as follows:
“How an animal is coping with the conditions in which he/she is living. For animal welfare to be satisfactory, the animal must be in a state of overall well-being, which is a condition of physical, mental and emotional harmony, and which includes the ability to live naturally and to meet all species-specific and ethological needs: This would include the provision of the Five Freedoms under Section 6 (3) 1.”