What is Animal Welfare?

background-animal-welfareOftentimes, people will use the terms animal rights and animal welfare to mean the same thing, suggesting that the two ideas represent the exact same principles, practices, and concerns.  The differences between these terms are quite significant, though.

To put is simply, animal welfare refers to the relationships we humans have with the Earth’s animals and our duty to assure that those animals that are under our care are treated as responsibly and humanely as possible.

The interest in animal welfare is not something that is a modern idea, despite its popularity in today’s world. At least ten thousand years ago when animals were being domesticated in Neolithic times, people were concerned for the welfare of animals. It was that care for the animals that led to domestication of animals, animal husbandry (breeding and caring for animals), and animal agriculture.  The development of agriculture is considered, by many historians, to be one of the most important human history events.

In the Neolithic era, the animal welfare practices that were formed put people in a position where they were obliged to consider the welfare of their animals in order for their own purposes to be achieved. They began to see how, through taking care of the animals, the animals would in turn take care of them.  Because of this, their own self-interest demanded that they treat their animals well. This exact same ethic is still around today, mostly in places where taking care of animals hand-on happens.  This human-animal bond is a very special relationship.

At Colorado State University, an animal science professor named Dr. Bernard Rollin believes that the technology of the twentieth century broke the ancient contract because it allowed we humans to harm animal’s well being by putting them into environments and to uses that increased their productivity but actually did the animal harm.

This idea is the challenge of today’s world.  We have to be able to provide animal welfare in this nation that is urbanized and technological rather than rural and agricultural.  These days, only about two percent of Americans live on farms, with only half that farming as their primary occupation.  In the 1800’s, ninety percent of people were farmers in America. If we continue to see this trend, concentrated farming will become more the norm, making the welfare of the animal even more critical.