Surprise surprise – 90 per cent of us say high standards of welfare are important in food production, according to this week’s Countryfile. I have two questions – firstly, why do only 90 per cent of us say this…and secondly, what is high welfare?
The second point is where we come unstuck because we humans are obsessed with nice tidy formulae. Whether we’re talking about happiness, or a successful marriage, or the secret of a long life, we like recipes that work. We search tirelessly for blueprints that will give us the definitive answer and solve our problems in one fell swoop.
But most of us know – or at least suspect by now – that life’s not like that. We find long-lived people in all walks of life, from all backgrounds. We find happy marriages in the most unexpected places. And a little bit of what you fancy can do you good. The answer is….there is no definitive answer.
So why don’t we all take a step back and instead of vilifying some farming systems which contain a number of excellent examples of welfare and eulogising about those that contain some appalling examples, look instead at the specific outcomes for the animals. As the RSPCA says: “We believe that it is no longer acceptable to make assumptions about the state of animals’ welfare based simply on the resources provided to them. We’ve therefore been working hard to develop practical, reliable methods for assessing the health, physical condition and behaviour of farm animals to give us a more accurate and direct picture of their welfare. This approach is known as ‘welfare outcome assessment’.”
We can look at generalisations until the cows come home (whether from the paddock or the barn) - but surely the only way of proving anything is in the results?
So – how happy and healthy are your animals? Are they able to behave naturally, do they interact well with you and their herdmates? And I’m not just talking about cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, but also cats (did you know PETA says all cats should be kept indoors?), dogs, goldfish….whatever.
Life’s not black and white. There are no rules and there are lots of exceptions. So let’s put aside preconceptions and hidden agendas, and start really putting the animals first.