Skip to content

CEFAW has made a submission to a consultation by UK Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs on the development of a National Food Strategy. Here's what we said:

In its draft conclusions the AHRC-funded research project, Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare (CEFAW) argues that a transformation of current practices of animal farming is a crucial part of a national food strategy. Many farmed animals in England are currently farmed in ways that do not enable them to flourish or enjoy good lives. A national food strategy should incorporate a commitment to raising farmed animal welfare standards to allow for the flourishing of all farmed animals.

CEFAW is developing a Christian framework for considering the ethics of farmed animal welfare in partnership with national churches and other institutional partners. It is considering the relationship between Christian beliefs about God’s creation and care of all creatures, on the one hand, and about humanity’s God-given responsibility to care for fellow creatures, on the other. In particular, CEFAW examines the ways that consumer demand for high volumes of inexpensive animal products, financial pressures on farmers, the rise of intensive farming, and general assumptions that animals exist for human benefit both constrain possibilities for farmed animal welfare and challenge Christians to change the ways they think about human and animal thriving.

CEFAW understands farmed animal welfare to be determined by the degree to which systems of raising animals allow them to flourish. The more that farmed animals lead lives which fully participate in the capacities, characteristics, activities, social relationships, reproductive and rearing processes, and life-expectancies specific to their species, the more they flourish. 

Many production systems currently in use in England provide poor opportunities for farmed animals to enjoy good lives and flourish:

1. Contemporary farming practice routinely subjects farmed animals to impoverished lives in monotonous environments. Most poultry and pigs, and a growing proportion of English dairy cattle, are kept indoors in environments that do not enable the expression of species-specific behaviours such as scratching or rooting in the earth, or grazing grass. Enabling the flourishing of farmed animals requires going beyond respecting negative freedoms from hunger or thirst; from discomfort; from pain, injury or disease; and from fear and distress; to the positive freedom to enjoy preferred behaviours. Environments in which farmed animals are raised should enable the expression of normal species behaviour.

2. Contemporary farming practice routinely engages in animal mutilation, such as tail docking, beak trimming, dehorning or teeth clipping. These procedures cause animals pain but many farmers consider them necessary given constraints such as diet, space, finances, staffing, climate, and disease prevention. Farmers need substantive support in order change systems to eliminate these painful procedures. Mutilations should be reduced and, where possible, eliminated.

3. Contemporary farming practice routinely disallows maternal care. Dairy and pig production commonly separates family groups prematurely, preventing natural mothering behaviours in females and the enjoyment of care by young. In poultry production eggs are usually removed from the hen before hatching. Standard systems of farming present economic incentives for farmers to break up groups very soon after birth, but such practices prevent a key component of what constitutes a good life for farmed animals. Consideration should be given to changing production systems to allow maternal care and family groups.

4. Contemporary farming practice prioritizes productivity over flourishing in the selective breeding of farmed animals. Broiler chickens now grow so rapidly and so large that they frequently suffer leg disorders. Double muscled beef breeds suffer increased birthing problems. New breeding technologies such as genome editing present new and even more serious welfare threats than selected and marker-assisted selective breeding. Breeding technologies should promote welfare rather than production at any welfare cost.

5. Contemporary farming practice has shortened the length of life of many farmed animals. Broiler chickens should be able to live longer than the six-week norm. Beef and dairy production should be reintegrated so that male calves born to dairy cows, and female calves born to cows that are not needed for milking, can be reared for meat rather than killed soon after birth. Male chicks from breeding laying hens should be put into broiler production rather than killed at a day old. Consideration should be given to changing production systems to allow longer lives for animals killed before maturity. 

A key corollary to providing good lives for farmed animals is raising and consuming fewer of them. It is not possible to make substantial improvements in farmed animal welfare at current levels of production because the changes that enable the flourishing of farmed animals will reduce productivity and increase production costs. Such a transition is viable without substantial increases to institutional or domestic catering budgets if reduced consumption of animal products is combined with increased consumption of plant-based alternatives that cost less than animal products.

It is crucial for a commitment to enable good lives for farmed animals to be part of a national food strategy because farmers cannot make the changes required independently. Many farmers are working to offer good lives to the animals in their care, but current contracts do not sufficiently reward farmers and contain too few incentives to raise animals in ways that enable flourishing. Farmers need the support of policy makers, food producers, retailers, and consumers to move towards systems delivering better opportunities for farmed animal flourishing.

CEFAW calls for a national food strategy that incorporates a commitment to providing good and flourishing lives for farmed animals by providing environments that enable the expression of normal species behaviour, reducing and where possible eliminating mutilations, allowing maternal care and family groups, adopting breeding practices that prioritize welfare, and allowing longer lives for animals killed before maturity.

 

Share this content