Are we talking too much about “animal welfare”?

By Marie-Claude Marsolier, National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)

The way we think and the words we use are interdependent, and agrifood professionals have well understood this: To hide violence against animals, they multiply euphemisms and semantic derivations.

In the 19thand century, the drab and flakes has thus become slaughterhousesand in farms today, the care can refer to the filing of the teeth as well as the cutting of the beak, tail or castration alive. Within the general framework of denial of the suffering that humans inflict on other animals, a concept has gradually invaded all discourse: “animal welfare”.

While pig breeding is one of those likely to cause the most suffering for the animals in question, Inaporc’s website, the National Pork Association, for example, proudly proclaims: “Animal welfare: at the heart of the sector’s concerns”. The site argues:

“Because breeders are people who are passionate about their animals and a stressed animal will not produce quality meat, every player in the sector takes great care of the animals’ well-being. »

The welfare movement

The concept of “animal welfare” became visible to the general public from the 1960s, first in the United Kingdom. In English it is referred to as animal welfare, welfare denotes in its general sense a “physical and mental state”, whether good or bad: one can speak without contradiction of poor welfare.

Besides, welfare refers more specifically from the beginning of XXand century for social assistance for the benefit of the most vulnerable people. L ‘animal welfare is the core of the movement said prosperouswhich strive to improve the living conditions of non-human animals, especially on farms, without, however, calling into question the principle of their exploitation.

This movement can be seen as a desire to extend the guarantee that their minimum needs are met for animals in general, a principle that is now widely accepted by humans.

Of’animal welfare animal welfare

that welfare thus differs from well-being, “well-being” in the primary sense of “general feeling of joy, of satisfaction that comes from the full satisfaction of the needs of the body and / or mind”, is likely to apply just as much to humans as to non-humans. In English therefore the different meanings of welfare and of well-being applies equally to humans and other animals.

L ‘animal welfare English was translated as “animal welfare” in French, which broke this beautiful symmetry. that welfare social for humans actually corresponds in French to “protection” (of childhood, etc.) or “social assistance”, while “animal welfare”, to express generalization of welfare social to non-humans, intuitively sends French speakers back to well-being, to extend human welfare to other animals. In other words, to fundamentally positive notions (we are not talking about “poor well-being”) and hedonic (spas, massages, etc.), which are not related to welfare measures as brutal as smashing the skull (“anesthesia”) before the throat is cut. .

A misleading expression

Official texts define “animal welfare” as a state guaranteed by the satisfaction of five needs, qualified as “freedoms” (absence of hunger, fear, etc.).

Even so limited, the term “animal welfare” remains misleading, and its systematic use seems to suggest that respect for the “five freedoms” is guaranteed for the majority of individuals.

For livestock, however, “animal welfare”, even in its official definition, is only guaranteed in a minority of cases. It is thus clear that “freedom of expression for the normal behavior of its species” (fifth freedom) is not respected for animals living in intensive farms (estimated at 80% of the animals slaughtered in France).

Even today, tail docking and live castration of pigs is legal or tolerated by the state (not to mention the conditions for slaughter), while “the absence of pain” is recognized as the 4.and freedom defines animal welfare …

“Animal malaise”, better suited to point out these problems

The term “animal welfare” therefore has two misleading implications for the general public: on the one hand, it seems that its efforts cover help points, “comfort” and not problems of acute suffering (when “welfare is interpreted in its usual hedonistic sense”); .On the other hand, it implies that the living conditions of the majority of the domestic animals for which we are constantly talking about “well-being” would at least meet their primary needs.

These misconceptions would be avoided by using the term “animal diseases” (meaning “physical and mental illness”) to refer generally to the problems of animal protection. Once we have agreed to talk about “well-being”, as the agricultural sector has done for decades, it seems difficult to deny “suffering” to describe this real lack of “well-being” that exists among the majority of livestock.

For animal movements, the interest in the term “animal distress” is also to suggest a conscious feeling, better than the terms pain and suffering (a requirement or rule may also “suffer” … a delay or an exception).

The use of “animal welfare” and the fact of limiting the use of “animal welfare” to its intuitive meaning of “pleasure and satisfaction” would also make it possible to clearly distinguish, by naming them from appropriate, “negative” goals. to “reduce animal welfare”, which limits mental and physical distress, “positive” measures aimed at increasing “animal welfare”.

After being neglected for a long time, scientific research centered on promoting positive emotions is now booming, referred to as positive welfare. True “animal welfare” presupposes not only the absence of discomfort but also the occurrence of pleasant life experiences.

Do not cover up the violence

Restricting, but not giving up, the use of “animal welfare” would prevent its use for the purpose of minimizing violence. To continue to use this term to speak arbitrarily about stopping mutilation and enriching the living environment seems to us to undermine the cause that we have to defend.

We do not propose to change the way all actors in this field speak from one day to the next. But animal associations could play a role as a lexical prescriber in this case. It is not insignificant to neglect this issue by approving terms that run counter to common sense and harm animals.


Frédéric Mesguich, a doctor of chemistry specializing in materials for energy, author of Blog Questions Décomposent and founder of Animaliste Blogothèque, helped write this article.The conversation

Marie-Claude Marsolier, Director of Genetic Research, National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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