Concept of animal welfare – University of Copenhagen

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Concept of animal welfare

The Idea of Animal Welfare - Developments and Tensions

By P. Sandøe & K. K. Jensen (2012)
UFAW Animal Welfare Series
. Wiley-Blackwell.


This paper focuses on developments and tensions within the idea of animal welfare. There is divergence among those who believe in the idea of animal welfare. First, we discuss what it takes for farm animal welfare to be good enough. How far should society go beyond the starting point of the Brambell Committee, which was to prevent avoidable suffering? Secondly, we turn to the tricky question of how welfare should be distributed between animals. Here, a tension within the concept of animal welfare, between a focus on the individual animal and on the herd, flock or shoal, is pointed out. Finally, the role of economic considerations is considered, given that animal production takes place in a global market with free trade between countries with various standards of animal welfare.

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Sandøe, P. (2010)
The encyclopedia of applied animal behaviour and welfare. CABI.


'Animal welfare' is a wide-ranging, and often value-laden, term that is used with somewhat different meanings by different people. It appears to have been first used by Major C. W. Hume, who was instrumental in founding the University of London Animal Welfare Society in 1926. In non-technical assertions like 'securing the welfare of animals in our care is vital' the term 'welfare' refers to positive well-being or quality of life. In the technical literature on animal welfare, by contrast, it makes sense to speak about welfare as a continuum running from negative to positive. 

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The implications of a feelings-based approach to fish welfare: A reply to Arlinghaus et al.

By F. Huntingford, C. Adams, V. A. Braithwaite, S. Kadri, T. G. Pottinger, P. Sandøe & J. F. Turnbull (2007)
Fish and Fisheries. Wiley-Blackwell.


The welfare of fish is a topic of increasing debate touching on a number of complex scientific and ethical issues and constructive dialogue between groups with differing approaches to the topic requires mutual understanding from both perspectives. In a recent review aimed at stimulating debate on this topic, Arlinghaus et al. (2007) explore the question of fish welfare in the particular context of recreational angling, by means of a critique of a review of fish welfare in general written by ourselves (Huntingford et al. 2006). We entirely agree with the desirability of debate on this topic and recognise a number of valuable qualities in the commentary by Arlinghaus et al. However, we argue that the critique has some serious flaws.

In the first place, by rejecting a feelings-based approaches to welfare, it fails to address the aspect of welfare that is at the heart of much legitimate public concern. Secondly, while advocating an objective, scientific approach to fish welfare, Arlinghaus and co-authors fail to present their own agenda (that recreational angling is morally acceptable) in a transparent way. Thirdly, they seriously misrepresent the position taken in Huntingford et al. (2006) on a number of important issues. In this reply, we address these points and then discuss briefly the areas of agreement and constructive disagreement between the two reviews.

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Philosophical debate on the nature of well-being: Implications for animal welfare

By M. C. Appleby & P. Sandøe (2002)
Animal Welfare. UFAW. 


There has been much consideration of well-being in philosophy, especially of human well-being, which contributes to our understanding of animal welfare. Three common approaches to well-being are presented here, which map approximately onto three possible ideas about animal welfare. Perfectionism and other forms of 'objective list' theories suggest that there are various values that should be realised or various things that an individual ought to have for his life to be a good life. In the case of humans, this is based on the concept of human nature.

This approach is reflected in two ideas about animal welfare: first, that animals should live natural lives (which includes consideration of an animal's nature or 'telos'), and second, that welfare is concerned with functioning or fitness of animals. The two other approaches are subjective; in other words, they relate solely to the mental processes of the subject. The first, desire fulfilment, suggests that well-being is defined by the satisfaction of desires or preferences. The other, hedonism, states that well-being is the presence of pleasant mental states and the absence of unpleasant ones. These two approaches are both relevant to the idea that the welfare of animals relates solely to their feelings. That idea corresponds most closely to hedonism, so it may be that preferences are most relevant in helping to reveal feelings. However, it is sometimes implied that satisfaction of preferences is itself part of feelings. It would also be possible to maintain, as in the desire fulfilment approach to human well-being, that animal welfare consists of preference satisfaction itself. These possibilities need to be more clearly distinguished. Arguments for and against each approach to well-being are presented, so that scientists may be more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their own ideas about animal welfare.

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