Definition of animal welfare


Today the welfare of all types of animals is a major concern in many Western countries and the term animal welfare is in common use. Unfortunately widespread use of a phrase diminishes its precision and it comes to mean different things to different people. It is strange but there seems to be no generally accepted definition of what animal welfare is. This is bad enough in English-speaking countries, but when the words come to be translated into other languages the chances of confusion increase. We need therefore to spend a little time on the definition of animal welfare. The word welfare means, according to the 1993 edition of the Oxford Shorter English Dictionary: happiness, well-being, good health or fortune, successful progress or prosperity. It is derived from two words meaning well or good and to fare, meaning to go or to proceed. Welfare therefore means going well or well-being. Earlier, the 1978 edition of the dictionary defined welfare as the state or condition of well-being. We see immediately that it is contradictory and wrong to speak about bad welfare— that is bad well-being and repetitive to speak about . good well-being. I have on another occasion discussed some definitions of animal welfare, none of which seemed to me to be satisfactory. Since animal welfare is a state of animal well-being which continues or progresses we need a definition which in turn leads to clarification of factors which produce or influence it. I, therefore, suggest the following: animal welfare is a state of animal well-being which flourishes when physiological and psychological requirements are met continuously and adverse factors are controlled or absent. This definition has a number of advantages. It establishes animal welfare as a desirable state of being which should be encouraged—we wish it to flourish. It applies to all types of animals, large and small, domesticated or wild, in all conditions. The reference to both physiological and psychological requirements extends also to behavioural needs. It follows from the definition that an animal’s state of well-being can be influenced for better or for worse by the occurrence or variation of different intrinsic or extrinsic factors. A simple example of a beneficial factor is the ample availability of potable water to drink. On the other hand, excessive heat would be an adverse factor.

A major ethical issue
Recent developments in technology affecting the breeding of animals—embryo transfer etc., led to concerns in Britain as to what should and what should not be ethically permissible. A committee to consider these matters, the Banner Committee, reported to the Government in 1994. The committee made a number of technical points relating to embryo transfer in various species of animal but it has also made a highly significant general recommendation of what is, and what is not ethically permissible in the use of animals. Unfortunately, the recommendation is written in rather complicated English. Put more simply, the recommendation can be stated as three principles.
.a There are certain harmful things which should never be done to an animal.
.b If anything harmful is to be done, the benefit to be obtained must outweigh the harm inflicted.
.c When anything harmful is to be done the harm must be minimised. These are the basic principles which underlie the earlier Animals Scientific Proce-dures Act of 1986 and I am pleased to say that they have been accepted by the British .
Government and thus now apply to a wider spectrum of animals.