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OPINION: The Five Freedoms – addressing animal welfare

Wednesday 21 July 2021 | Written by Dr. Ellen McBryde | Published in Editorials, Opinion


OPINION: The Five Freedoms – addressing animal welfare
Pictured here in this 2019 photo are a cow with calf and a yearling that a local resident said were left without water by their unknown owner. 19071512

The ‘Five Freedoms’ have formed the basis for animal welfare standards the world over since the 1960s. So what are the ‘Five Freedoms’? And how can they help us to have a positive impact on the animals in our care? Dr Ellen McBryde explains.

First, a tiny bit of history. Animal welfare concerns are not new. In fact, public outcry over farming practices in the United Kingdom in 1964 led to government action, and the humble beginnings of what we now know as the ‘Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare’. The first five freedoms that they identified – Every animal deserves the freedom to stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves, and stretch their limbs. Sounds fair enough, right?

By the end of 1979, these freedoms had been further developed to encompass both the physical and mental health and wellbeing of animals. And the ‘Five Freedoms’ were born.

So, what are they?

1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – through access to fresh water, and a good diet.

2. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing shelter, and a comfortable place to rest.

3. Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease – through preventative health care or providing treatment as needed.

4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour – by providing enough space to move, and company for social animals.

5. Freedom from Fear and Distress – to avoid suffering.

These freedoms have long existed as a benchmark for meeting the basic needs of animals, and following them allows adequate welfare standards for animals to be maintained.

But we as pet owners and farmers are moving beyond this. Rather than simply working to prevent negative experiences, our aim should be creating and encouraging positive ones. We should want the animals in our care to have a good quality of life.

In acknowledging that physical aspects (such as nutrition, environment, and health) have an effect on the overall mental state of each individual animal, we can continue to work towards bettering our standards of animal welfare.

In the wise words of the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham – ‘the question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?’


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