10 May 2018

Animal welfare: a cause that makes progress thanks to civil society

Boats of death where thousands of ship crammed together die by suffocation on the way to a distant death, piggeries and poultry houses where tens - even hundreds - of thousands of animals live on top of each other without ever having seen the light of day, condemned to fight fiercely with their fellows with the vain hope to increase their living space, corridors leading to a slaughter room where animals are cut into pieces, often alive, thousands of cattle stuck in the stinking mud of feedlots stretching over land to the horizon…  Examples are countless of cruelty of the condition of animals in our industrial food system…, not to mention the horrid treatment of laboratory animals and of some of our pets - particularly fashionable exotic pets.

Last of a long series, just a few weeks ago, a new meat scandal struck in Spain following the broadcast of devastating scenes recorded on a farm supplying the Spanish meat giant El Pozo and displaying the unbearable condition of sick animals covered with ulcers and suffering from hernias and abscesses, living in the middle of partly cannibalised corpses, destined to serve as base material for the production of famous sausages… Are we even surprised to learn that El Pozo’s reaction to this film was to file a lawsuit against the journalist, for manipulation? [read]

Animal suffering appears to be endless in a world which nevertheless is becoming conscious that animals are sensitive creatures, meaning that they are able to feel pleasure, suffering and, more generally, emotions. Despite this, in a “civilised” country like France, even though the law recognised this fact, it continues to treat them like “goods” and specific laws designed to protect them date back to 1976!

Are animals so different from humans for us to treat them in such a way? To respond to this question, it is sufficient to see how cows frolic and kick the free air from delight when, spring having arrived, they are taken out from their shed and taken to pasture, or to realise how happy they are when they see again someone they know well but have not seen for some time, how they come to the person to lick her and be petted… Just take the time to watch them in order to find out about the individual temperament of each of the herd members, the leaders and the followers, the rebels and the gentle ones, the adventurers and the shy…

According to CIWF France, “75 billion animals are reared for food every year in the world. In Europe, more than 80% live in intensive industrial farms: they are genetically selected for optimal productivity, live in overcrowed sheds, unable to behave in a way that is typical to their species”. These animals are considered as “raw material” for the food industry.

However, as early as 1992, the British Farm Animal Welfare Committee had listed the five freedoms at the basis of animal welfare that were later reflected in the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 and that are supposed to apply to all animals :

  1. 1.Good feeding (absence of prolonged hunger and thirst);

  2. 2.Good housing;

  3. 3.Good health (no pain, injuries or diseases);

  4. 4.Appropriate behaviour: social and natural behaviour;

  5. 5.No fear.

These principles serve as reference at the international level and for the definition of animal welfare by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and for European Union rules and regulations.

Daily news show that we are still far off the mark and that we do not respect animals however close they are to us. Take time to observe animal behaviour and be informed of the results of the analysis of what is common in our DNA with that of some animals: did you know that we were “sharing” around 80% of DNA with cattle [read] and more than 95% with chimpanzees?

So there is much left to do and many Civil Society Organizations are active in this area. For example:

  1. Compassion in World Farming (CIWF)  who combats against the use of cages and antibiotics, for improved transport conditions and humane slaughter, in particular;

  2. The UK Centre for Animal Law who works for more comprehensive and effective laws and better enforcement of existing animal protection laws.

It is possible to act and influence animal welfare without even necessarily being members of these associations, as our consumption choices can influence the way animals are treated :

  1. By consuming less or no animal products. This will reduce incentives for producing animal products and will, in addition, have a positive impact on health (for example, in France, meat consumption has been regularly decreasing over the last decade and is well below the maximum level of 500g/day recommended by World Cancer Research Fund International);

  2. By consuming animal products produced while respecting animal welfare and thus dissuade producers to be involved in industrial production and encourage its replacement by processes that respect animals. Various labels existent that inform us on production conditions. There is for example one Organic Farming label, recognised by governments and by the EU that certify that animals are well treated. It is also possible to be informed on aspects of animal treatment through tracing and coding of food: see the example of eggs [read].

In the case of animal welfare like in other cases (for example the transition towards a more sustainabile food system), it is a combination of policy measures taken by the State and the will of consumers that can make the situation evolve in the right direction.


To know more:

  1. Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) website.

  2. UK Centre for Animal Law website.

Earlier articles on related to the topic:

  1. Are industrial megafarms the solution for feeding the world?, 2018.

  2. Opinions : Catastrophic Antibiotic Threat from Food, 2017.

  3. Quel avenir pour notre alimentation ?, 2013 (in French only).


Last update:    May 2018

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