Ed Pajor is a Professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Production Animal Health. Dr. aEd_Page__9114Pajor provides scientific expertise to numerous organizations including the McDonald’s Animal Welfare Panel. Dr. Pajor completed his B.Sc. degree in biology from the University of Waterloo and received his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in biology from McGill University, specializing in animal behaviour.

Animal welfare issues have increased in public importance significantly over the past few years.  For some, this comes as a surprise for others it is simply a continuation of a developing social ethic (Rollin, 2004).  The increased importance of animal welfare, especially in agriculture, has occurred for a number of reasons including a decrease in knowledge of where food comes from and how it is produced, different conceptions of what matters in terms of animal welfare, increased consolidation and a move to a pull economy from a push economy and the development of animal welfare standards and on farm/plant assessments. 

Agricultural mythologies and public expectations
The acceptance of how animals are treated in agricultural is reflected by two major components which make up an agricultural mythology, diligent animal care and reverence for the family farm (Fraser, 2008).  This mythology creates certain expectations regarding animal care, expectations that may not reflect the realities of animal production.

Animal issues are often divided into animal welfare vs. rights arguments.  In reality, our expectations about how animals should be treated fall within a normal distributions.  At one end of the distribution we have extreme activists that want to ban any animal use, at the other extremists in animal agriculture that only regard animals as commodities and profits to be made.  These extremist in animal agriculture tend not to be the primary producers but those that may have a financial investment but never visit a farm.  Most conversations about animal treatment focus on comparing these two extremes, which is less complicated than addressing the large group in the middle of the distribution.  This majority group will often vary in their expected treatment of the animal depending on the animal’s utility. 

Conceptions of animal welfare. 
Animal welfare is a value laden concept.  In general, three major concerns will be highlighted when discussing animal welfare with the public, function, feelings, and natural behaviour (Fraser et al., 1997).  Historically, people’s conception of animal welfare has had a large emphasis on the functioning of the animal (health and productivity).  As more people lose their connection to agriculture they are less able to discuss complications around health and productivity.  These are still considered to be important for animal welfare but the public assumes and expects that these issues are being addressed. The industry constantly delivers the message about producing safe and healthy food.  There are a small group of consumers and advocates that question if animal production is a good measure of animal welfare.  These individuals are aware of “production diseases”, diseases that likely are caused by pushing the biological system too far.   

For many individuals there is an inherent attraction and value placed upon experiences with nature and the natural world.  People place great value on a “weekend trip to the mountains, to get away from it all”.  Natural is often compared to the artificial as a way to demonstrating the shortcoming of the artificial.   Finally when it comes to animals, many people believe that animals have an innate nature, a “Telos” (Rollin, 2004). Animals have evolved to behave in certain ways and if prevented from doing so their welfare is compromised.  Thus, allowing animals to live in environments where natural behaviours can be expressed would decrease welfare concerns.  For others, concern about animal welfare deals directly with concern over the animals’ affective state.  What are the animals experiencing?  Are they happy?  Are they in pain?  Are they suffering?  There is strong evidence that concern about animal feelings and their mental states will increase in the future and be a driving force in the development of animal welfare policy.   The closest animal connection for most people will be their companion animals.  Numerous studies have reported that companion animals are considered to be family members rather than owned property.   The companion animal industry is huge, greater than 4.5 billion dollars in Canada alone.  This being the public’s main experience with animals will mean that the care provided to companion animals will be used as unofficial standard regarding how other food animals should be treated.  For example, if companion animals receive pain mitigation after tail docking or castration should other animals?

In addition to public concern there is a sense among researchers that there are significant gaps in our understanding of animal emotions.  Animal feelings were at one time considered to be outside the area of scientific investigation by any serious scientist.  This occurred despite the fact that those working with animals were well aware that animals had emotional responses.  Animals were “afraid” of the veterinarians truck, “disliked” other members of their herd, or “enjoyed” exercise or performing.  Fortunately, in the last few years, the study of animal feelings and motivation has improved dramatically (Duncan 2005; Kirkden and Pajor, 2006).  In fact, the study of animal emotions has expanded from identifying and preventing negative emotional states to investigating positive emotional states (Boissy et al., 2007).  In addition, research activities on the cognitive abilities of farm animals have increased and are being linked to animal stress and welfare (Mendl and Paul, 2004).  The increase in scientific activity in the area of animal affective states, the recognition of clear behavioural needs as well as the public’s growing interest in animal welfare has resulted in a new definition of animal welfare being proposed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)

“Animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour and is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter/killing. Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal received is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment.”   (OIE, 2008)

This definition, which has been adopted by numerous countries and organizations, represents a significant change in how animal welfare has previously been defined.  In this definition, it is clearly stated that “Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal”.  Proper care and handling are still expected to be provided at a high level but assessing animal welfare requires assessing what the animal experiences.  

Economic factors 
The increased importance of animal welfare in production agriculture has occurred through 1) changes in the structure of animal agriculture itself as well as other stakeholders through consolidation and globalization and 2) how food is sold (change from push to pull economy). 

Consolidation has occurred throughout the food production chain, primary producers as well as retailers. This consolidation creates economic efficiencies but also potential targets for activist campaigns.  For example, groups advocating for the banning of a particular practice can be much more efficient by targeting a Wal-Mart or McDonald’s or even a primary supplier such as a Smithfield. The second major change is the shift from a push to a pull economy is the also the result of consolidation.  Rather than producers competing on quality of product and cost of production, large retailers can now demand product at certain prices and produced in specific ways.  In a pull economy, economic externalities such as animal welfare and the environment play important roles.

Standards and Assessments
The development of animal welfare standards and assessment programs are occurring throughout the world.  The OIE, an organization that represents over 170 countries has developed animal welfare guidelines for a variety of species in transportation and are currently developing on farm guidelines for animals used in food production.  These guidelines have the potential to influence trade issues as the OIE serves as a reference organization for the World Trade Organization.  The Welfare Quality Project, a multi-million dollar project involving EU and Latin American countries, was designed to identify standardize measures and on farm animal welfare assessments.  In the United States, animal welfare standards and assessments have been developed in the private sector. For example, the American Meat Institute makes available an animal welfare assessment for use in slaughter plants and the National Pork Board has included animal welfare training and assessments within their Pork Quality Assessment program (PQA).

In Canada, the Codes of Practice are currently being revised for a number of commodity organizations.  The codes will be based on a review of the existing scientific literature.  However, Canadian codes are currently voluntary and have been criticized for other reasons (Bradley and MacRae, 2010).  As other countries move towards animal welfare standards and independent third party assessments, Canada may need to consider the development of clear national standards and on-farm assessment programs.  The Animal Care Assessment Model (ACAM) being developed by the National Farm Animal Care Committee (NFACC) is a step in the right direction.  ACAM is working to guide the development and implementation of auditable on-farm animal care programs. The process involves multiple commodity groups, retailers, regulators, and animal welfare scientists reflecting the various interests in the process.  At a meeting held in 2011 a retailer stated

“The days of producer-defined standards are gone. It has to be a multi-stakeholder process,”
        David Smith, VP of retail strategy and sustainability with Sobey’s

The Horse Industry
The horse industry has a major presence in the animal welfare discussions occurring in the public/policy forum.  Issues around horse slaughter, horse transportation, and feedlot horses are all areas of concern.    The majority of calls to animal care help lines in Alberta, and other provinces and states deal with horses.  Discussion about the use of horses themselves in events such as thoroughbred and chuckwagon racing as well as rodeo events can be dominate in the news.  Within the industry numerous welfare issues exist ranging from training methods to appropriate types and use of equipment.  Although much of the current discussion regarding animal welfare is occurring within the food animal sector, the horse industry is very public and vulnerable. 

Concern about animal welfare is no longer a marginal issue but reflects a new social ethic. Animal welfare has become part of the culture of agriculture and is having an impact from the local to international level.  Animal welfare is about the state of the animal.  The public has strong expectations of those that care for animals.  Historically concern about animals was limited to their health and productivity.  However, as people’s relationship with agriculture decreases and their relationship with animals are limited to their pets there will be an increasing emphasis on animal feelings. Increased market concerns about animal welfare and demands on producers is the result of complex changes involving consolidation, globalization, and the development of standards.  Codes of practice are essential but assessments/benchmarking strategies to demonstrate continuous improvement are going to be expected by retailers.  The manner in which food is produced matters more than ever.  The manner in which animals under our care are treated will come under increasing public scrutiny.  The horse industry has a prominent role to play in the animal welfare debate.  The opportunity for that leadership is now. 


Boissy, A., G. Manteuffelb, M. Bak Jensen, R. Oppermann Moe, B. Spruijt, L. Keeling, C. Winckler, B. Forkman, I. Dimitrovi, J. Langbein, M. Bakken, I.Veissier, A. Aubert, 2007.  Assessment of positive emotions in animals to improve their welfare.   Physiology and Behaviour  92:375-397

Bradley, A. and R. MacRae, 2010.  Legitimacy & Canadian Farm Animal Welfare Standards Development: The Case of the National Farm Animal Care Council.  Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 24:19-47.

Duncan, I.J. 2005.  Science-based assessment of animal welfare: farm animals. Rev. Sci. Tech. 24:483-492

Fraser, D. 2008.  Understanding animal welfare: The science in its cultural context.  366 pp.

Fraser, D., D.M. Weary, E.A. Pajor, B.N. Milligan, 1997.  A scientific conception of animal welfare that reflects ethical concerns.   Animal Welfare 6:187-205. 

Kirkden, R.D.  and E.A. Pajor, 2006.  Using preference, motivation and aversion tests to ask scientific questions about animals’ feelings.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science 100:29-47.
Mendl, M. and E.S., 2004.  Consciousness, emotion and animal welfare:  Insights from cognitive science.  Animal Welfare 13: S17-S25.

Rollin, B.E. 2004.  Animal Agriculture and emerging social ethics for animals. J. Anim. Sci. 82:955-964.



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