Opinions concerning acceptable relationships between animals and humans range from that proposed by the animal rights groups believing in identical treatment for all higher life forms to the completely opposite view allowing humans to exploit animals in any way they like. Most people in affluent societies locate somewhere between these two extremes. They are concerned with animal welfare, believing that any managed or restricted species should be properly maintained and all cruelty prevented. Animal well-being is intangible, however, and difficult to define or measure. Thus, debate continues about basic needs of individual species, whether intensive production systems can provide these and what should be minimally acceptable. Modern livestock management practices and confinement structures certainly reduce the animals' opportunity for choice while affecting both the physiological processes and behavior of inhabitants. This places extra responsibility to provide an acceptable standard of care on all individuals who work with animals.

Proponents of animal rights are organizing and intensifying attacks on livestock production. Groups such as PETA contend that humans have no business using other species of animals for any purpose at all. They present a very negative image of livestock farming and use a multitude of issues such as food quality, residues and poisonings, as well as pollution and cruelty to convey their message about the evils of meat consumption and fur wearing. Conferring rights indicates animal-human equality, inferring that all forms of animal restriction or exploitation is wrong. If accepted in total, this would means no animal foods, no animal fibers, no draft animals, no recreational animals, no companion animals and no animals for medical research, unless the animals volunteer.

Animal welfare organizations usually concede that superior intelligence enables humans to domesticate and exploit animals. Whenever exercised, this control carries a moral and often a legal responsibility to provide suitable care, ensuring a reasonably pleasant life and pain-free death. Most livestock producers are in complete agreement with this view.

Animal Needs

Five Freedoms

The Bramwell Committee, in their "Report on Conditions of Animals Raised Under Intensive Conditions" (1965) proposed five freedoms for all farm animals:

  1. freedom from malnutrition
  2. freedom from discomfort
  3. freedom from disease
  4. freedom from fear or distress
  5. freedom to express normal behavior

The animal rights groups portray modern livestock production in a very negative way, intimating that animals are abused continuously with no access to any of the five freedoms. Since these organizations are adept at capturing media attention, all farms with domesticated animals receive considerable adverse publicity. In reality, farmers are the real animal welfarists. Unless animals are comfortable, healthy and fed adequately, they cannot be productive and farmers cannot make a living. Thus, it is in the best interests of the animals and their owners to satisfy at least the first four freedoms. Freedom number five causes some concern. Can anyone be certain that cows confined in comfortable tie stalls, with adequate amounts of feed and water always available, and with an effective health program so they do not suffer from any disease, experience serious mental anxiety because they are not free to butt or otherwise physically abuse herdmates?

Domestication made farm animals dependent on humans. Consequently, in accordance with moral and ethical principles of civilized society, we must accept this dependence as a commitment to protect domesticated animals from unnecessary suffering at all stages of their lives. Reasonable standards for livestock housing should include provision that facilities not only serve to confine the animals, but also ensure their comfort and safety by permitting normal postural and behavioral adjustments while precluding escape. Adequate ventilation, protection from temperature extremes, ready access to feed and water, prevention or treatment of disease and regular observation of the confined animals by attendants should also be mandatory. This is basically everything in the recommendations from the Bramwell Commission except number five. A logical progression towards acceptable standards which provide most of the five freedoms might be as follows:

Life Sustaining needs. The basic necessities would include:

Domesticated animals might exist under such conditions but could not be healthy or productive. Any further decline would result in death. Farmers could not operate under such conditions.

Health Sustaining needs. In addition to life sustaining needs, these would include:

Some productivity might be possible but any decline in diet or conditions would result in more disease and less or no production. Farmers realize that this is unacceptable.

Production Enhancing needs. The additional requirements are:

Any decline results in lowered production. Farmers work hard to maintain such environments since this is in the best interests of both their animals and themselves.

Luxury Conditions.

These usually provide more satisfaction for the people involved rather than to their animals.

Public awareness programs are needed to present accurate information on modern production practices and to show that producers are concerned for their animals' well-being. Swedish livestock producers were perhaps the first to recognize that consumer confidence is essential for successful marketing of products. They responded in 1985, forming the "Swedish Farmers' Meat Marketing Organization" to promote animal welfare through responsible animal husbandry.

Canada is also a world leader in developing responsible farmer attitudes. The" Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare" at the University of Guelph, the only formally organized unit of its kind in any North American research community, works toward developing appropriate procedures and attitudes. Collaborating members represent a wide range of disciplines, including physiology, pathology, ethology, zoology and philosophy. Their current activities include systematic, scientific investigation into animal behavior and performance under varying conditions. As knowledge accumulates, they should be in position to add a voice of reason and credibility to the welfare debate.

Our industries also participate with animal welfare organizations and research scientists to devise humane production codes for various farmed species. Interested and informed individuals, including representatives from the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, prepare the Codes of Practice. These are revised regularly in line with current technology and new knowledge, identifying areas where welfare of animals may be at risk unless precautions are taken. The Codes are specific and detailed, emphasizing the importance of total environment towards animal well-being and the fact that there are often more than one way in which welfare can be safeguarded.


Some argue that all domesticated animals should be allowed to range freely. The discomfort or distress experienced by animals raised under natural conditions, which invariably includes some suffering from diseases or injuries that remain untreated, and bullying of submissive group members by their dominant herdmates, are points never raised by those who attack confinement housing. The following comparison of free range beef cows and confined dairy cows might indicate out is not always optimum.

Confined dairy cow Free range beef cow
Protection from weatherconsiderable none
Protection from predatorssubstantial none
Quantity of feedadequate variable
Quality of feedadequate variable
Infectious diseasesrare present
Parasitic infestationsrare present
Physical injuriesrare possible
Biting insectsrare frequent
Veterinary careconstant rare
Water availabilitycontinuous variable

Are natural conditions always best? If animals could think:

Check Dr. Temple Grandin's Web Pages for more information on animal care and animal welfare concerns.

Almost all Canadian farmers do a good job of looking after their animals. Producers still need to demonstrate to society, however, that they can fully assume responsibility for self-administration with minimal outside regulation, just as most other professions operate. In an attempt to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers and to inform the public about modern animal agriculture, the various commodity groups formed the "Ontario Farm Animal Council." This organization is committed to working co-operatively with farmers, researchers, humane societies and consumers in communicating an understanding and appreciation of modern farming.

How should producers respond?

As societies become increasingly more urbanized, people posses less and less appreciation or awareness of biology. Most are even ignorant of how their abundant food, that is so readily available in neighborhood supermarkets, actually originates. In reality, the natural world is a cruel and frightening place. A very high proportion of wild animals succumb to disease, injury, accident or predation long before reaching maturity and none survive until senescence. Perhaps their domesticated counterparts do not have it quite so bad after-all.

Return to Index