CAST report explores animal welfare dilemma, progress

Understanding both science and ethics critical in reconciling differing perspectives.

Krissa Welshans 1, Feedstuffs Editor

April 23, 2018

3 Min Read
CAST report explores animal welfare dilemma, progress

Large-scale, intensive systems predominate production animal agriculture in the U.S., but the systems continue to generate concerns and public debates about the treatment of farm animals, the conceptions of sustainability, the social responsibility of food production systems and the safety and quality of food. A newly released report from the Council for Agricultural Science & Technology (CAST) titled "Scientific, Ethical & Economic Aspects of Farm Animal Welfare" explores the topic and shows that the priorities, state of the science, challenges and approaches to addressing agriculture animal welfare have evolved considerably.

There are many conflicting values and norms in society related to the use of animals, leading to increasing disagreement about what constitutes a “good life” for the animals in people's care, the report noted.

Broadly speaking, CAST said applied ethics discussions center on two different approaches to this topic: One focuses on the consequences of using animals in particular ways, and the other focuses on the morality of that use, regardless of the consequences. The two positions are reflected in the “animal welfare” and “animal rights” views, respectively. An additional ethical perspective is that animals are owed a good standard of care because of the benefits we derive from them.

No matter the position, CAST said understanding both the science and the ethics of animal welfare is critical to understanding and reconciling differing perspectives about animal care and use.

“The drive to address agricultural animal welfare increases as the demand for food of animal origins correspondingly grows,” CAST noted. “A major emerging challenge is the continuous need to meet animal protein demands while simultaneously protecting animal welfare and developing broadly sustainable production systems.”

The latest report, in comparison to a 1997 CAST Task Force report, shows a growing emphasis on animal welfare regulations. Led by Task Force co-chairs Candace Croney, Joy Mench and William Muir, the authors recognize that this issue is multifaceted and involves consideration of not only the biology and psychology of animals but also people’s ethical concerns.

“Addressing the scientific aspects of animal welfare is challenging and complicated,” CAST noted. “This paper demonstrates the need for strategic engagement related to ethical concerns when communicating with a wide range of interested stakeholders while also remembering the importance of keeping differing perceptions and levels of knowledge in consideration.”

This task force report addresses the issue by examining these key topics:

  • Current issues facing agricultural animal production;

  • Insights into the origins of current welfare concerns;

  • Major scientific advances that have occurred since the 1997 CAST Task Force report, and

  • Outstanding challenges and priority areas for future research, coordination and outreach relative to agricultural animal welfare.

Throughout the past 21 years, livestock and poultry industries have felt pressure to move toward alternative production practices, CAST explained.

"It is imperative to understand which systems and practices may optimize economic efficiencies in conjunction with ensuring positive animal welfare outcomes and public support of animal agriculture,” Croney said on behalf of the report’s authors.

CAST said there has been increased collaboration between scientists and philosophers to address agricultural bioethics in an effort to facilitate conflict resolution but added that due to the complexity of the issue, the scientific community continues to strive for a consensus that provides a framework for scientific and ethical analysis.

Download the full report here.

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