Is the concept of “animal welfare” intended to minimize violence against animals?

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

In the 19th century became drab and flakes thus became slaughterhouses, and 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 condition”, whether good or bad: one can speak without contradiction of poor welfare.

Besides, welfare refers more specifically since the beginning of the 20th century to 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.

What is animal welfare?
What is animal welfare? – Chairman of Animal Welfare / VetAgro Sup / Directorate-General for Food (DGAL) in the Ministry of Agriculture

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.

ofanimal welfare animal welfare

that welfare thus differs from well-being, “well-being” in the primary sense of “general sense of pleasure, of fulfillment that comes from the full satisfaction of the needs of the body and / or mind”, which is likely to apply to both humans and non-humans. – people. 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 French-speaking refers 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.

Animal welfare
“Five Freedoms” of Animal Welfare – Animal Welfare Chair / VetAgro Sup / Illustrations: Élodie Boisgontier

For livestock, however, “animal welfare”, even in its official definition, is only guaranteed in a minority of cases. It is thus obvious 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 4th freedom that defines the good – to be an animal. .

“Animal malaise”, more appropriate 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 sectors have been doing 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.

Stop covering up the violence

By limiting the use of “animal welfare” without giving it up, it would avoid using it 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.

This analysis was written by Marie-Claude Marsolier, director of genetic research at the National Museum of Natural History (with contributions from Frédéric Mesguich, Ph.D. in chemistry specializing in materials for energy and founder of Animalist Blogotheque).
The original article was published on the site of The conversation.

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