Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving Beyond the Five Freedoms Towards A Life Worth Living

Dr. David J. Mellor, Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre
Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, New Zealand

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Gaining knowledge of animal welfare and applying it in ways that improve our care of animals can be understood as a journey. Different countries, regions of countries and people within those countries have reached different stages in this journey. However, even for those who have travelled far on this journey, it will never end because new or modified approaches to animal care will be needed as we continue to learn more about how animals perceive and respond to the circumstances in which they find themselves.

The following topics will be considered to illustrate different aspects of the journey:

1. The three main orientations towards animals welfare: biological functioning, affective state (i.e.: feelings and emotions) and natural living.
2. The origins and orientation of the Five Freedoms: their strengths and limitations.
3. The Five Domains model for assessing animal welfare and how the focus shifted from being entirely on reducing negative states to be on both reducing negative states and promoting positive states.
4. The notions of a life not worth living, a life worth avoiding, a life worth living and a good life, and quality of life assessments.
5. How the changes from anti-cruelty to animal protection and then to animal welfare laws have reflected both scientific understanding and societal expectations.
6. The important concept of incremental improvement and its application to every aspect of animal welfare change management, contrasted with the gold standard approach.
7. Key features of how we now understand animal welfare.

Key Learnings
1. The idea that animals can and should always be completely free of negative experiences is biologically misleading because the negativity of several such experiences is essential to motivate animals to behave in particular ways that secure their survival. For example, breathlessness stimulates gasping to sustain oxygen supply; thirst elicits water seeking and drinking to reverse dehydration; hunger elicits food seeking and eating to correct nutrient shortage; and pain elicits withdrawal and other responses to minimize or avoid potentially fatal injuries.

2. Other negative experiences such as loneliness, boredom and depression reflect animals’ perception of their environment and can be replaced by environmental improvements that enable animals to behave in ways that elicit positive experiences, such as bonded companionship, engaged exploratory activities and pleasurable consumption of foods.

3. Good welfare management should have the dual objectives of, first, minimizing survival-critical negative experiences to keep them at tolerably low levels that nevertheless still motivate the essential behaviours and, secondly, providing animals with stimulus-rich environments that make available opportunities for them to engage in behaviours they find rewarding. 


Dr. David J. Mellor, PhD, HonAssocRCVS, ONZM
Professor David J. Mellor’s wide-ranging research and scholarly interests are reflected in his 515 publications, of which at least 290 are significant works of scholarship, including 6 books. He has made sustained contributions to animal welfare science and bio-ethical thinking for many years. David is currently Professor of Applied Physiology and Bioethics, Professor of Animal Welfare Science, and Foundation Director of the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre at Massey University in New Zealand, positions he has held since 1998. He has spent 28 years at Massey University in these and other professorial roles. Previously, he spent 21 years at the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, as a full-time researcher. David has wide experience of integrating scientific, veterinary, industry, consumer, animal welfare, legal, cultural and other interests during the development of national animal welfare standards, regulations and legislation in New Zealand and internationally. He has been widely recognized for his major national and international contributions to animal welfare.