Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dilemmas in Animal Welfare

Hero literally "sitting on the fence". Some dilemmas will do that to you. But in real life we need to make decisions that impact on animal welfare. (Honestly I was so excited that Hero sat still long enough for me to take this photo. It rarely happens).
Just about everyone I know feels that animal welfare is important, but that doesn’t mean they agree on decisions that impact the welfare of animals. So it was nice to see a textbook that acknowledges animal welfare dilemmas – and explores these in more depth.

Dilemmas in Animal Welfare states that the field is full of dilemmas because our decisions around animal welfare are rooted in human values. These vary between humans but also within individuals.

The book uses case examples in animal welfare about which people may be polarised, such as the question of whether tail docking is justified or whether dairy cows should be group-housed, then looks at the scientific evidence and ethical arguments on each side. It also asks the bigger-picture questions, something that can be missing from scientific literature. For example, with regard to tail docking piglets to prevent tail-biting, and associated morbidity and mortality, Sandra Edwards and Pauleen Bennett ask whether it is justifiable to condone a procedure (tail docking) as a short-term solution to existing suboptimal practices (overcrowding) and if there is a risk in delaying more desirable, longer-term solutions.

Other topics tackled include obesity in companion animals, quantity of life – often overlooked in welfare which tends to emphasise quality of life, intensification of farming and how we factor in the environment in ethical decision making, making decisions around whom we should eat, public health and animal welfare, balancing the need for conservation of a species vs our obligations to individual animals, conflict around feral cat colony management, and what we actually mean when we talk about suffering of animals.

Of course some of these won’t look like dilemmas to some readers. If you’re vegetarian or vegan the question of whom you should eat is already answered. But the arguments are well researched and constructed, and no matter which side of the fence you stand, or lean towards, you will be challenged.

This is an excellent book for anyone working in the field of animal welfare or animal production, as well as students in veterinary science, science, agriculture, conservation, bioethics and so on. It is one of those textbooks that can be read cover-to-cover but you can also dip in and read a chapter or two – they’re nicely contained.

My one criticism is that I think the final chapter – What is suffering in animals?  by Daniel Weary – should be the first. It raises some profound and unsettling questions about what we mean when we talk about animal suffering, what we need to know to make decisions and the limitations of this knowledge.


Appleby MC, Weary DM & Sandoe P (2014)(eds) Dilemmas in Animal Welfare. Cabi,