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The Rising Concern for Animal Welfare

Andrew Rowan weighs in on the rising societal concern for animal welfare.

Gundula Vogel from Pixabay.
What, when, and how do nonhuman animals feel?
Source: Gundula Vogel from Pixabay.

In the following, Andrew Rowan (one of the founders of the journal Animal Sentience, and Chair & Chief Program Officer at WellBeing International) will offer us his perspective on the recent developments in animal welfare science and welfare protection.

(This is part 1 click here for part 2)

Andrew Rowan: I would like to add a few thoughts and attributions if I may [referring here to this week's interview with Stevan Harnad]. Compassion in World Farming (a UK based farm animal advocacy group) has long argued that animal sentience is a very important issue that needs more attention (see page 11 of CWIF's Summary Report). Largely as a result of their politicking, a Protocol was formally added to the European Treaty in 1997 recognizing animals as sentient beings. But accepting “sentience” was the easy part—defining what it is and addressing the policy implications of that definition is much harder.

In 2005, Compassion organized an international conference on Animal Sentience with the proceedings appearing in a book edited by Turner & D’Silva and also in a special issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, edited by John Webster. The World Society for the Protection of Animals then hired a scientist around 2010 to build a program on animal sentience, and the Humane Society Institute for the Science and Policy organized a conference in March 2014 (cosponsored by WSPA) on the topic.

The conference was very successful, and we were looking around for a way to build on that success and decided that establishing a journal would be the way to go. I approached Stevan to see if he would be interested. I knew of his interest in animal welfare—occasionally, that interest surfaced in BBS—but I also knew of his vow not to edit another academic journal, and so I was rather tentative in reaching out. I was over the moon when he not only said he would be happy to participate but that he would like to take on the task of Editor-in-Chief.

Walter Veit: Have human-animal relations changed in the last decade?

Andrew Rowan: In general, I think it is fair to say that as human interest in and concern for animal sentience (suffering) has increased over the past centuries, so have policy initiatives taken on more urgency and reached further. I have been tracking funding (mostly donations and fee-for-service income) supporting animal NGOs around the world. When one takes into account inflation, funding for animal protection in the US has increased from around 20 cents per capita in 1910 to over 10 dollars per capita in 2018. There were around 600 animal groups in 1960, but there are now around 20,000 and 4,000 have budgets of more than $100,000 per annum. International animal groups were raising and spending around $30 million a year in 2000. Today, that figure is close to $350 million. There is no question that the animal movement has grown enormously in the past 120 years. Stephen Pinker views the rise in concern for animals as another evidence point in his book describing improvements in the human condition.

Andrew Rowan
Andrew N Rowan: Board Chair & Chief Program Officer at WellBeing International
Source: Andrew Rowan

Walter Veit: What role did the increasing recognition for animal sentience and emotions play in this development?

Andrew Rowan: I do not believe we can conclusively say that rising concern for animals is linked to a greater understanding of animal emotions and sentience, but the evidence for such a link is growing all the time.

In this context, a new academic journal on Animal Sentience is a mere data point, but I would argue that expanding the world’s understanding of animal sentience has really important policy implications. The EU has an office for animal welfare, and I am not at all sure it would have been established without the acknowledgement in the Lisbon Treaty that animals are sentient. Stevan (Harnad) is currently battling in Quebec with the provincial government, which included wording on animal sentience in a recent law.

Click here for part 2 of this interview.

Click here for the parallel interview with Stevan Harnad, the editor of Animal Sentience.


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Pinker, S. (2018). Enlightenment now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress. Penguin.

D'Silva, J., & Turner, J. (Eds.). (2012). Animals, ethics and trade: The challenge of animal sentience. Routledge.

Webster, J., 2006. Animal sentience and animal welfare: What is it to them and what is it to us? Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 100: 1-3.

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