Celebrating a seminal book on animal welfare - Veterinary Practice
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Celebrating a seminal book on animal welfare

Dr David Williams continues his series in which he reflects on life as a veterinary surgeon, this time reporting on an event which marked the 50th anniversary of a key work on welfare

CAN you imagine writing a book
that has its influence worldwide
changing how people think, how
businesses trade, how governments
legislate and whose effects are felt
50 years after its publication?

I guess
Betty Friedan’s
The Feminine
published in
1963 might
class as such
a volume or
maybe you will
be more familiar with Roald Dahl’s
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ posthumously
published Tarzan and the Madman,
written in 1940 but not published until

But no: the key book of 1964 was
surely Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines.
Ruth was aiming for a life as a dancer
and actress when the plight of animals
in intensive farming in the late 1950s
drew her to research this whole area
and produce her key volume.

A wonderful celebratory meeting
held recently at the RVC brought
together a number of those interested
in animal welfare – some vets, some
agriculturalists and some animal
welfare scientists – all to commemorate
the publication of Animal Machines
and discuss the issue
of intensive animal
farming 50 years on.

The meeting attracted
key speakers in the
area such as Professors
Michael Appleby, Peter
Sandoe and Donald
Broom, together with
Jen Walker (director of Dairy Stewardship at Dean Foods,
the largest producer and distributor
of milk in the USA) and Tara Garnett
who runs the Food Climate Research
Network in Oxford.

This diversity of expertise and influence gave a wonderful range of
views on the issues central to animal
welfare and sustainability of food

Mike Appleby, chief scientific
adviser with World Animal Protection,
formerly the World Society for the
Protection of Animals, talked of the
importance of Harrison’s book and
how it influenced the government to
set up the Brambell Committee.

Standard reaction?

One might cynically say that this is a
standard government approach to a
crisis – set up a committee and kick
the problem into the long grass. But
the Brambell committee did exactly
the opposite: it came up with a set of
freedoms that paved the way for the then Farm Animal
Welfare Council’s “five
freedoms”, broadened
the view of animal
suffering to include
behavioural needs
and, importantly,
moved the legislative
foundation from one
that aimed to reduce cruelty against animals to one that
looked to optimise their welfare.

Appleby talked of the ways in which
animals are still seen as machines, how
machines can improve animal welfare
with virtual shepherding, systems to
regulate feeding of broilers to optimise
their bone strength and even benefit
farmed fish welfare, although the Fish
Welfare Meter looks at inputs to fish
farming rather than the outputs that
will truly demonstrate the degree of benefit to
the fish.

His lecture was entitled Animals and machines –
climbing the infinite stairway
showing that while
we have had a lot of
progress in the last half
century, there is still a
long way to go.

A key goal of World
Animal Protection is
producing an Animal
Protection Index looking
to assess policy and
legislation of countries

Peter Sandoe,
professor of bioethics at the University
of Copenhagen, agreed. Would Ruth
Harrison be pleased or disappointed?
With regard to chickens she would
indeed be pleased. In 1999 the
European Union agreed to abolish
barren battery cages and by 2012 this
had indeed occurred. Surely this was
fantastic news.

We see plenty of free range eggs in
supermarkets – excellent news! But
where is the evidence that free range
is indeed best? A paper on a huge
number of welfare markers from
Bristol in 2010 showed that hens in
enhanced cages were actually in a
better state than those in barns or free
range with regard to everything from
their faecal corticosteroid levels to
mortality figures.

Maybe we have to be careful about
rejecting some degree of machinery
input to farm animal care. The
question, as Sandoe put it, is “What
does ‘good’ look like?”

What about
the farmers?

Jen Walker brought a commercial US
perspective to the discussion. How do
farmers see their approach to animal
welfare? Are they merely box tickers or
truly on the bus? Better still, are they
driving the bus of improving animal

The key thing is for all stakeholders
to share beliefs with the aim not just
to fulfil specific goals for commercial
gains but overall to “do the right

Tara Garnett, based at the Environmental Change Institute
in Oxford, placed animal welfare
in a broader perspective of global
sustainability. She gave some amazing
numerical data: 1.3 billion people
worldwide are involved in food
production involving animals and
agricultural animals produce 14.5% of
greenhouse gases, eat 40% of world
grain production and use 70% of
agricultural land.

Putting animal use
this way was sobering.
How can we explain
what is happening?
We could say there
is simply not enough
food – in that case
we need to improve
food production
efficiency. Or maybe
we see greed as the
key problem – in
which case reducing
consumption is the
key solution. But
maybe inequality
is the quandary
and a “one health”
and sustainability approach is the way to go.
Back to the animals themselves and Professor Don Broom, emeritus
professor of animal welfare at
Cambridge gave us a sneak preview
of his forthcoming book on animal
sentience and welfare. What is
sentience? Being able to feel or
perceive? Being aware, maybe even
self-aware? Can we know whether
animals are aware or self-aware?

Professor Broom took us through
evidence from parrots and crows
having a concept of the future to pigs
able to assess what a reflection in a
mirror means.

To finish the meeting, Broom
shared new information on recent
advances in whale and seal welfare.
Finally, after many years, his work with
other welfarists has persuaded the
International Whaling Commission
to consider the considerable welfare
problems of hunting and killing such
highly sentient animals.

And the continuing nightmare of
seal cub killing has in the last few
weeks seen a considerable turnaround
with the World Trade Organisation
upholding a European ban on skins
from seal cubs killed by clubbing or
free shooting, both of which are hardly

The meeting finished with a
reception at which delegates could
continue discussing the wide range of
topics raised by such an interesting
meeting. CABI publishers and the RVC
are to be thanked for organising such
an excellent day to celebrate such an
important book 50 years on.

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