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CEFAW is a three-year AHRC-funded project to develop a Christian ethics of farmed animal welfare and an associated new policy framework for Christian institutions, with 13 institutional partners including major UK churches.

Why farmed animal welfare?

The raising of farmed animals is a major global enterprise with massive impacts on domestic and wild animals, human food and water security, human health, and the environment. In 2013, 77 billion birds and mammals and around 6 trillion fish were used for human food globally, using 78% of available agricultural land and 8% of all human water usage, consuming 35% of global cereal output, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions than those from transport globally, and contributing to human health problems including antibiotic resistance, new threats from zoonotic diseases such as bird and swine flu, and increased incidence of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and stroke from the associated increase in meat consumption. The raising of farmed animals has grown substantially since the mid-twentieth century, primarily as a result of a revolutionary intensification of production methods. Poultry consumption has increased at three times that of human population growth in each of the past five decades and a 73% rise in demand for meat from 2010 levels is expected by 2050. The scale of farmed animal production and the methods used by the industry are therefore of very significant public interest.

Why is this a pressing current issue in the UK?

The impending exit of the UK from the European Union makes the question of appropriate UK standards for the raising of farmed animals an urgent one. While Brexit provides the opportunity for the UK to make independent improvements to farmed animal welfare, the negotiation of new trade relations outside the EU, and especially with the US, will exert pressure to weaken current standards for farmed animals, for example with respect to the use of growth hormones in beef cattle and chlorine disinfectants for chicken. Recent studies show high and rising levels of public concern about farmed animal welfare, with UK citizens reporting an average 7.8/10 when asked to rate how important it is to them that farm animal welfare is protected, 58% wanting to know more about the conditions under which animals are raised, 68% believing that welfare protections need to be improved, and only 38% believing it is currently easy for consumers to find high welfare products. Farmed animal welfare standards are therefore likely to be a major topic of public debate in the UK in the years ahead.

Why engage with churches and Christian organizations?

Churches and other Christian institutions in the UK have significant interests in the raising of farmed animals and substantial influence over policy and practice in relation to farmed animal welfare. Their influence is exercised through participation in parliament; agricultural land ownership; investments in companies that produce and retail farmed animal products; participation of church members in production, retail, and consumption of farmed animals; and wider influence on public attitudes. As the Lords Spiritual, Church of England bishops take 26 seats in the House of Lords and seek to exert a beneficial influence on legislation, with concerns running far beyond the Church’s sectional interests. Through the Church Commissioners, the Church of England owns 105,000 acres of farmland, and rural land holdings represent 8.8% of the £7.9 billion of investment assets owned by the Commissioners. The Church has further farming interests through investments in food producers and retailers, and participates in the ecumenical Church Investors Group with combined assets of over £17 billion, who seek to direct their investments according to Christian ethical principles. While church attendance has fallen in recent decades, churches continue to exercise influence over their members and within society more widely, evident in the development of the Fairtrade movement in recent decades, the Jubilee 2000 campaign to cancel developing world debt, and the more recent Church of England campaign against payday lenders.