Understanding Basic Ethics and Welfare

So we've all heard about animal welfare, ethics and rights, but do we fully understand what each description means and what position we take with our views? Well, let's break it down! Ethics

Ethics are similar to moral philosophy - they provides standards around what people should and shouldn't do. It seeks to show the difference between good and bad and ways to uphold ethical principles.

In animal ethics, decisions are often made by considering the consequences of acting or not acting, and the hope is to do the best for the animal and cause as little harm as possible.

There are many approaches in ethical thinking, namely Non-Normative, Metaethics and Normative approaches. The Consequentialist Theory and the Deontological Theory are part of the Normative system, and these theories underpin much of the ethical decision-making process.

The Consequentialist approach judges whether something is right or wrong based on what outcome it achieve for example, if lying is considered wrong but if it were to save someone's life, then under consequentialism, it would be the right thing to do.

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist view that says that doing something to achieve the "most good for the most people" is correct.

Utilitarianism could be considered wrong in some cases, such as in bullfighting, where the bull is usually suffering. People in Spain and Portugal traditionally enjoy this sport. But say someone complains the bull is suffering, then the organiser under the consequential approach could say, "Oh, let's sell more tickets."

This, in theory, then justifies the suffering because it is outweighed by the enjoyment experienced by a more significant number of spectators.

The Deontological approach uses rules to distinguish right from wrong; all people need to do is follow the rules without weighing consequences.

Under the "Social Contract", which is a pragmatic position taken by farmers, the livestock provides the farmer with income in exchange for the farmer providing for their needs and comfort, giving the farmer a sense of justification.

Animal Welfare is concerned about animal suffering and how happy they are.

Animal Rights

Animal Rights supporters hold strong beliefs that animals should not be exploited whatsoever. Extreme supporters of animal rights think that animals and humans should have equal rights. Generally, animal rights supporters believe the following:

  • It isn't right to use animals in research.

  • Animals shouldn't be kept in a way that impinges their freedom, e.g. in cages or on farms.

  • It isn't right to use animals for enjoyment, e.g. people shouldn't race greyhounds, ride horses or keep animals in zoos.

  • Animals should be allowed to reach their natural old age and enjoy life in their natural environments, dying of natural causes.

Farming Ethics

Livestock production involves many ethical issues about animal welfare, such as confinement for long periods, amputations and mutilations without anaesthetic. Morally, some farmers abide by the following outlooks:

  • Less painful forms of treating the animal should be used where possible.

  • The farmer has a duty of care and responsibility for his/her animals.

  • Because animals are sentient, it matters to them how they are treated.

  • Animals should not be hurt unless totally unavoidable.

When making ethical decisions, the farmer needs to decide if what they are doing to an animal is fair, if there are any other better, less hurtful or painful alternatives and absolutely necessary. Most of all, the moral dilemma will always ask, is it right?

The Five Freedoms are a set of goals that Farmers should aim to achieve. The Five Freedoms were initially outlined in the Brambell Report (1965) and were adopted by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC).

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst

  2. Appropriate comfort and shelter should be provided

  3. The prevention or fast diagnosis and treatment of injury, disease or parasite infestation

  4. The ability to display normal behaviours

  5. Freedom from distress

Why don't some farmers want to provide better welfare?

Some farmers complain that better welfare means the cost of production will rise, so too will the customer's expense; thus, the farming industry will suffer. While this can be true to an extent, there are ways of calculating the actual cost of better welfare. Some people want to pay more to know that the animals that produce the food have lived a better life, and farmers also need to consider this demand.

So, why worry about Animal Welfare?

  • A personal sense of responsibility and duty of care towards the animals

  • Respect for the animal

  • For our personal sense of justice and fairness

  • Legal obligations

  • Avoid losing dignity in ourselves

  • Avoid being perceived as neglectful in our communities

  • Emotional empathy and sympathy for animals

In the real world, there are codes of animal welfare practice that guide people in how animals should be treated. There are minimum standards (that must be followed) and recommended best practices (that should be followed) to ensure better welfare.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it interesting! Feel free to drop me a line; I'd love to hear your thoughts!