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Assessing animal welfare

Highlighting ethical decisions underlying the scoring of animal welfare in the Welfare Quality® scheme

I. Veissier, K.K. Jensen, R. Botreau & P. Sandøe (2011) 
Animal Welfare. 
UFAW.

Abstract

All systems of scoring animal units (groups, farms, slaughter plants, etc) according to the level of the animals’ welfare are based inevitably on normative decisions. Similarly, all methods of labelling, in terms of acceptability, are based on choices reflecting ethical values. The evaluative dimension of scoring and labelling does not mean that we should reject them, but it does mean that we need to make the normative and ethical background explicit. The Welfare Quality® scoring system is used as a case study in order to highlight the role of underlying value-based decisions. In this scoring system, which was designed in accordance with assessments and judgments from experts in animal and social sciences and stakeholders, we identify value-based decisions at the following five levels.

First, there are several definitions of animal welfare (eg hedonist, perfectionist, and preferentialist), and any welfare scoring system will reflect a focus upon one or other definition. In Welfare Quality®, 12 welfare criteria were defined, and the entire list of criteria was intended to cover relevant definitions of animal welfare. Second, two dimensions can structure an overall evaluation of animal welfare: the individual animals and the welfare criteria (here 12). Hence, a choice needs to be made between the aggregation of information at the individual level (which results in a proportion of animals from the unit in a good vs bad state) and the aggrega- tion at criterion level (which results in a proportion of criteria to which the unit complies vs does not comply). Welfare Quality® opted for the second alternative to facilitate the provision of advice to farmers on solving the welfare problems associated with their farms. Third, one has to decide whether the overall welfare assessment should reflect the average state of the animals or give priority to worse-off animals. In the Welfare Quality® scoring system the worse-off animals are treated as much more important than the others, but all welfare problems, major or minor, count. Fourth, one has to decide whether good scores on certain criteria can compensate for bad scores on others. In the opinion of most people, welfare scores do not compensate each other. This was taken into account in the Welfare Quality® scoring system by using a specific operator instead of mere weighted sums. Finally, a scoring system may either reflect societal demands for high levels of welfare or be based on what can be achieved in practice — in other words, an absolute assessment or a relative one may be proposed.

Welfare Quality® adopted an intermediate strategy: absolute limits between welfare categories (Not classified, Acceptable, Enhanced, or Excellent level of welfare) were set, but the rules governing the assign- ment of an animal unit to a category take into account what had been observed on European farms. The scientists behind Welfare Quality® are keen to make the value-based choices underlying assessments of animal welfare transparent. This is essential to allow stakeholder groups to understand the extent to which their views are acknowledged and acted upon.

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Conflicting goals of welfare assessment schemes: A case study

By R. Ingemann, P. Sandøe, P. Enemark & B. Forkman (2009)
Animal Welfare. UFAW. 

Abstract

The aim of this article is to discuss the farming industry's development and use of welfare assessment schemes. A welfare assessment scheme developed by the Danish Cattle Federation (DCF) is used as a case study. The declared aim of the DCF scheme is to improve animal welfare, farm profitability and dialogue with the public. It is the purpose of this article to attempt to understand the dilemmas arising from this broad aim.

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Farm animal welfare: The interaction between ethical questions and animal welfare science

By P. Sandøe, S.B. Christiansen & M.C. Appleby 
Animal Welfare. 
UFAW. 2003

Abstract

Farm animal welfare has now been studied, within a scientific framework, for several decades. The framework does not include ethical issues, but unless measurements of animal welfare at farm level are embedded in an ethical context, there is a danger that these measurements will not be properly utilised. This paper considers the relationship between ethical questions and animal welfare assessment. In it, the following four key ethical questions are identified. What is the baseline standard for morally acceptable animal welfare? What is a good animal life? What farming purposes are legitimate? What kinds of compromise are acceptable in a less-than-perfect world?

The authors suggest that animal welfare scientists need to reflect carefully on these questions if welfare assessments are to be properly interpreted and put to practical use. Such reflection will lead to a more transparent appreciation of the values underlying welfare assessment. In this way, it will both offer welfare scientists a greater awareness of their own value-assumptions and enable the same scientists to communicate effectively with the wider audience farmers, consumers, pressure groups, policy-makers and so on for which the results of animal welfare assessments are of concern.

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Assessing animal welfare - where does science end and philosophy begin?

By P. Sandøe & H.B. Simonsen (1992)
Animal Welfare. UFAW. 

Abstract

To be able to assess animal welfare the researcher must presuppose a number of background assumptions that cannot be tested by means of ordinary empirical data collection. In order to substantiate these assumptions two sorts of inferences have to be relied upon, which the authors designate by the terms 'analogies' and 'homologies'. Analogies are evaluative, philosophical reflections by means of which it is made clear what provisions or states constitute the welfare of humans and other animals. By means of analogies it may, for example be argued that animal welfare consists of subjective experiences such as pain, boredom, pleasure and expectation. Also by means of analogies the relative 'weight' of these states can be decided. Homologies are part of theoretical science. They serve to clarify how the relevant experiences are linked to measurable anatomical physiological and behavioural parameters. 

An account is given of the steps which have to be taken to give a full answer to a question concerning the welfare of animals. In the account only farm animals are mentioned, but the same steps, of course, also have to be taken to answer questions concerning the welfare of other kinds of animals be they companion, laboratory, zoo or wild. Eight steps are described, and it is argued that both analogies and homologies are needed at very fundamental levels. Therefore, if animal welfare science is to provide relevant, rational and reliable answers to questions concerning animal welfare, it must be an interdisciplinary inquiry involving philosophical reflections and theoretical biology. 

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