Animal Welfare in a Changing (and Increasingly Human) World

An interview with Dr. Andy Butterworth, editor of a new wide-ranging book.

Posted Oct 05, 2018

Countless nonhuman animals (i.e., animals) continue to be used and abused in a wide variety of human-centered venues. A new wide-ranging book called Animal Welfare in a Changing World, edited by the University of Bristol's Dr. Andy Butterworth, presents highly readable and relevant evidence-based discussions of many issues that center on animal welfare and how we can, and must, make the lives of other animals the best they can be. I agree that, "This must-read book is essential for animal and veterinary scientists, ethologists, policy and opinion leaders, NGOs, conservation biologists and indeed anyone who feels passionately about the welfare of animals." I wanted to know more about this collection of essays and how it came to be, so I reached out to Dr. Butterworth and gladly he agreed to answer a few questions. Our interview went as follows.

Why did you edit Animal Welfare in a Changing World?

"Contemporary and challenging, this thought-provoking book outlines a number of the key dilemmas in animal welfare today and tomorrow." 

These are ideas (and people) who have been rolling around in my mind for a while, and I had the chance to turn the ideas into chapters in the book. The chapters 'only scratch the surface' of the huge range of possible animal welfare topics, and there are still many more topics I'd like to cover.

Cover of Dr. Andy Butterworth's new book
Source: CABI

What topics do you cover and how did you select them and your contributors?

"I think that the authors of the chapters in this book have often had to push through resistant waters of critical opinion, and have sweated in slaughterhouses, shivered on the ice where animals are hunted, been criticized, been heckled, occasionally threatened, and often misquoted."

I have selected the topics because they interest me (and are at the top of a big pile of things in animal welfare that interest me)—with the assumption that if they interest me, they might interest other people. I invited the authors to write because I admire them. They are individual thinkers. They have worked with animals in diverse topic areas that are not always easy (or popular), and have sometimes proposed ideas that have not received universal support. I think that the authors of the chapters in this book have often had to push through resistant waters of critical opinion, and have sweated in slaughterhouses, shivered on the ice where animals are hunted, been criticized, been heckled, occasionally threatened, and often misquoted. The writing in each chapter is personal, sometimes very opinionated, and is an amalgam of fact, experience, science and opinion, and I like that. 

The topics include (authors' biographies can be seen here);

1: Habitat Loss: Changing How Animals Think?

2: Whale Entanglement – a 21st-century Challenge in the Ocean

3: The Welfare Effects of PCBs in the Ocean

4: The Fence – the Welfare Implications of the Loss of the True Wild

5: Trophy Hunting and Animal Welfare

6: Carry on Carrion: the Fall of the Scavenger

7: Restoring What We Have Destroyed: Animal Welfare Aspects of Wildlife Conservation, Reintroduction and Rewilding Programmes

8: Intensification – the Pressures of Volume

9: Welfare Challenges: Feedlot Cattle

10: Public Opinion and the Retailer: Driving Forces in Animal Welfare?

11: Vertebrate/Invertebrate – When Do We Start Caring?

12: Animal Welfare at Slaughter – a Level Global Playing Field?

13: Precision Livestock Farming: the Future of Livestock Welfare Monitoring and Management?

14: The Paradoxical World of the Dog

15: Animal Experience of Domestication

16: Better to Have Lived and Lost – the Concept of a Life Worth Living

17: If Fishes Feel Pain, What Should We Do?

18: Anthropomorphism: Faulty Thinking or Useful Tool?

19: Speciesism

20: Longevity and Brevity – Is Death a Welfare Issue?

21: Promises and Challenges of Big Data Associated With Automated Dairy Cow Welfare Assessment

22: Animal Welfare: Information in a Changing World

23: Licensed to Harm

24: Animal Watching in Tourism

25: The Rise of the Inclusive Approach to Change in Animal Welfare

26: Animal Welfare Protection in the Face of Shrinking Public Resource

What do you mean by "a changing world?"

"In a world where it is often necessary to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that a cause of suffering is real, there is a tendency to put off practical action until there is ultimate proof."

The world is changing, and animals are being swept along, either ‘with’ humans in farms, zoos, game parks, as companion animals; or ‘alongside’ humans through the effects of human activity on the environment and the wild. Human influence, powered by oil and gas, electricity, the aeroplane, the car, the gun, air and water pollution, can be felt across the entire surface of the planet. The creeping tentacles of human population growth are affecting huge areas, and huge numbers of animals. The United Nations estimate that the global human population will reach 10 billion in 2100, and the cities of Delhi and Tokyo are forecast to reach 40 million people each within the next decade. Humans and their towns and cities need food and fuel, they spread across land, and human waste and ‘needs’ are linked with climate change, land and soil damage, deforestation, ocean pollution, air pollution, and marine debris. Even if population growth slows, humankind and its mark on the planet and its animals is already deeply scored into the earth. 

All of the animals discussed in the chapters of this book are influenced by human change. All these animals probably have complex experiential worlds, and mental needs and natures; and can probably experience pain (or at least pain analogues, as evidenced through their response to aversive conditions); are probably aware of their own surroundings; probably have an emotional dimension; are probably aware of what is happening to them; probably have the ability to learn from experience; are probably aware of bodily sensations—hunger, heat, cold; are probably aware of their relationships with other animals; have the ability to choose between different objects and situations; and probably have the capacity to ‘suffer’.

I use the word 'probably' repeatedly and with purpose. I think that the accumulation of ‘probables’ is compelling. In a world where it is often necessary to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that a cause of suffering is real, there is a tendency to put off practical action until there is ultimate proof. In the realm of animal welfare, this has been the cause of much diversion, and delay, and distress—the animals continue to be used (and abused) whilst more proof of, for example, ‘can these animals really feel pain?’ or ‘do these animals really need so much space?’ is collated, analyzed, and debated. The application of the ‘precautionary principle’ (‘informed prudence’) could, and perhaps should, be the protective norm when animals and people collide, and when there are compelling accumulations of ‘probables’. To try to ensure that the wellbeing and welfare of the animals are given weight and importance could be the default position rather than the position towards which humans and animals move after divisive confrontation, and this is discussed in many of the chapters in the book.

What are some of your major messages?

Almost all of the animals issues in the book are 'human created issues'—what humans do 'next' is now important to a majority of animals on the planet. It seems likely that we'll lose many species, and subject those species that remain to more and more controlled lives.  

Looking back from the future, what humankind decides to do in the next couple of hundred years may be the subject of much future heartbreak and despair if we don't 'get it right'. 

Who is your intended audience?

Anyone who is interested in animals, animal welfare, and the ways in which humans impact animal lives. 

Are you hopeful that things will get better for the ways in which other animals are used and abused in an increasingly human-dominated world, often called "the age of humans"?

I fear that for many animals, human 'needs' will sweep the animals along, and perhaps sweep them away—farmed, companion, and wild animals live in challenging times—and the major challenge is what we humans decide to 'do next'.

What are some of your current and future projects?

I'm working on animal welfare assessment methods for poultry, cattle and wild animals. I'm particularly interested in the welfare lives of the huge numbers of chickens farmed in the world (about 50,000,000,000 per year), and also the impacts of humans on marine mammals, including the increasingly apparent effects of plastics and pollution in the ocean.

Is there anything else you would like to tell readers?

If you should read the book, I thank you, and I hope that you find things that are interesting and challenging. 

Thank you, Andy, for an informative and important interview. I'm more a fan of what Jessica Pierce and I call the "science of animal well-being" in which the life of every individual matters because of their inherent value rather than because of their utility to humans, Of course, this is not to say that the science of animal welfare hasn't helped other animals along by preventing or alleviating suffering.  We develop our arguments in our book The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age in which we also write about the "knowledge translation gap" (for more discussion please see "Animals Need More Freedom and Clearly Let Us Know This is So"). Clearly, the failure to use what we know on behalf of other animals is very harmful to them. We call this the "knowledge translation gap" which refers to the practice of ignoring tons of science showing that other animals are sentient beings and going ahead and causing intentional harm in human-oriented arenas. This concept fits in nicely with what you wrote about the precautionary principle in response to the question "What do you mean by 'a changing world?'" On the broad scale, the "knowledge translation gap" means that what we now know about animal cognition and emotion has not yet been translated into an evolution in human attitudes and practices (for more discussion please see "It's Time to Stop Pretending Fishes Don't Feel Pain"). An excellent example of the knowledge translation gap is found in the wording of the U. S. Federal Animal Welfare Act which explicitly excludes rats and mice from kingdom Animalia (even though a first grader knows that rats and mice are animals). For more on the idiocy of the AWA’s misclassification of rats, mice, and other animals please see “The Animal Welfare Act Claims Rats and Mice Are Not Animals.

I hope Animal Welfare in a Changing World will enjoy a broad global audience, because other animals need all the help they can get. It would be perfect for advanced undergraduate and graduate classes in courses focusing on animal-human relationships (anthrozoology) and conservation psychology. Of course, anyone working with nonhumans should also read this book carefully, as should those people who draw up regulations, legislation, and laws. The time is long overdue for giving other animals the respect they deserve in the numerous arenas in which they are used "in the name of humans."

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