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CUI BONO?: A new study reveals the distorted focus of ‘animal welfare science’

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The language used in animal welfare scientific literature is often ambiguous; the motivations for the research are often not stated explicitly. Although labeled 'animal welfare science,' research may be directed at increased productivity, appealing to customers who want 'humane' meat, and, above all, increased profitability.

JESSICA PIERCE: Animal welfare science has emerged over the past several decades as a critical field of study that aims to improve quality of life for animals, especially those used within industrial venues such as agriculture, laboratory research, and zoos. It focuses largely on how to understand and measure the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of animals, emphasizing the need to consider the intrinsic value and experiences of animals. However, recent research suggests a concerning disconnect between the objectives of animal welfare studies and their actual focus.

A study published last month in Animals, a prominent animal welfare journal, explored an obvious but surprisingly neglected question: What value do scientific papers focused on animal welfare attribute to animals, and how has this focus changed over time? Alessandra Fragoso and her colleagues set out to assess the value attributed to farm animals in major animal welfare and animal production journals over the past three decades. They selected 180 different papers that mentioned “animal welfare” or “animal well-being” in their objectives or hypotheses. Each paper was blindly scored by five assessors on a scale of 1 to 10, based on the degree of intrinsic value attributed to animals, with 10 indicating a high degree of intrinsic value.

The study found that the average level of consideration for the intrinsic value of animals in the analyzed scientific papers was lower than expected. The overall mean score was only 5.6. This low score indicates a departure from the fundamental principles of animal welfare science and is evidence that “animal welfare scientific publications are, on average, not prioritizing the interests of animals.” The observed discrepancy raises concerns about the distortion of the animal welfare concept and the broader implications of this distortion.

As Fragoso and colleagues note, the language used in animal welfare scientific literature is often ambiguous; the motivations for the research—why and for whom it is performed—are diverse and often not stated explicitly. Although labeled “animal welfare science,” research may be directed at increased productivity, compliance with welfare regulations, appealing to customers who want “humane” meat, and, above all, increased profitability…

The distortion of the animal welfare concept is not limited to scientific publications; it also manifests in marketing and agri-business discourses. Companies often use animal welfare as a marketing tool to improve public perception without genuinely prioritizing animal well-being. Strategies such as “humane washing” are employed to create an impression of animal welfare–conscious practices, while obscuring the reality of animal suffering…

The study’s results underscore the need for a deeper discussion on animal welfare science within the domain of epistemology, which explores the relationship between science and moral philosophy. The findings suggest a lack of clear linkage between ethical demands and the objectives of animal welfare studies. Bridging the gap between science and ethics is crucial for the advancement of both fields and the development of comprehensive animal welfare practices. SOURCE…

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