Recognising autonomy
Death is not a welfare issue
Chairman's column: 

The total income of the animal welfare “industry” over the past five years, raised in the United Kingdom, mostly through charitable donation, was in excess of £½ billion Sterling. Add to that sum the public money spent by local authorities, central government and regional institutions and the figure more than doubles. In return for public investment, how much better off are our animal populations? This is a very difficult question to answer. Most of the annual reviews available to us cite achievements that are, for the most part, completed objectives that measure activities and process. Thus, we read of a new animal welfare centre commissioned, built and opened. We read of campaign targets achieved, new legislation or regulations passed and in respect of process, X animals inspected/rescued/rehomed.


The reason my question is so difficult to answer is that many of the activities carried out by the animal welfare sector do not have measurable links to animal welfare outcomes. Animal welfare has been characterised more than most industries by the cult of personality. Individuals have determined many of the priorities: thus, millions of pounds were spent on achieving a ban on fox hunting. I have written in this Journal in the past about the welfare arguments surrounding fox hunting. However, I would be the first to admit that compared to the suffering caused by lameness in our national dairy herd, or intensive broiler production, where we have clear evidence, fox hunting was always a “fringe” issue, had we applied objective tests of prevalence and severity. That it was a politically iconic issue is beside the point. However, what is to the point is the fact that broiler welfare and dairy cattle lameness are still major welfare concerns and there is as yet no evidence that the welfare of the national fox population has benefited from the ban (which might happen if fox control in general were regulated).


If we follow this line of argument, several sacred cows start to unravel. Just what measurable benefits to animal welfare are achieved through neuter and release programmes? I have seen volumes of anecdotal evidence but nothing that convinces. Do farm welfare assurance schemes deliver better animal welfare? Do sanctuaries provide a better life for animals? Do the priorities set by the animal welfare sector, its trustees and chief executives truly represent the greatest animal welfare needs? Of course, in challenging the animal welfare sector to account for it’s vast expenditure (and some might argue that this is trifling compared to charitable expenditure on human welfare) I am not seeking to devalue the contributions to animal welfare, many of which are tangible and real. There are significant benefits to society: rehoming of lost pets and the prevention of cruelty. The animal welfare councils have brought clarity to many important issues.


Charities begin with passion, which drives people to achieve a change for good that might not otherwise happen. Passion and personality are the driver and means that stopped bear baiting and dog fighting in the UK. We should not be frightened of showing to the donating public real achievements, but more than ever, we have an obligation to develop the methodology which will show that our achievements are reflected in quantifiable animal welfare benefits.


This opens another debate. For each intervention how can we measure the improvement in animal welfare and the effectiveness of the expenditure? How does one value, in monitory terms, the life of an animal, or the cost of a successful re-homing? How do we measure quality of life? These questions can only be answered using animal welfare science and applied ethical reasoning: this is the raison d’etre for AWSELVA — let us get on with it.