Since about the mid-1990s, animal welfare has been an increasing focus of farm animal science research in the US and the European Union, due in large part to public concern expressed over the treatment of farm animals. The US and EU governments are supporting multi-million dollar/euro programs that will play major roles in establishing national and international welfare standards. A complicating factor within farm animal science in both locations is the current lack of precise definition or measurement standards for welfare. This project will examine three programs (two under the US Department of Agriculture and one European Union-sponsored) that are all engaged, at varying levels, with a more recent research paradigm that attempts to measure animals' subjective (i.e., having awareness of their experiences) welfare, and will use a combination of qualitative methods that include textual analysis of program documents and published scientific research, and triangulation of data from interviews of key research personnel and observation at research sites. Three objectives guide this project's design: 1) to compare the major characteristics of the US and EU research programs; 2) to examine in depth the manner in which knowledge of farm animals and their welfare is actively produced through the scientific spaces/settings, practices, and discourse of the programs and their published research; 3) to assess the implications for both the industry and for animal welfare of the varying research approaches identified within the US and EU programs. The project will develop data on the physical spaces/settings of the research and the experimental procedures, examining the data for relationships between particular spaces and practices and particular constructions of the animals' (subjective) welfare. With regard to discourse, the project will use narrative analysis broadly following a grounded theory approach to identify and understand epistemological and ontological approaches to farm animal welfare science, researcher conceptions of farm animals' capacities for awareness of experience and the resulting definitions of good/poor welfare, and the discursive representation of welfare concepts within and outside the scientific community. It is expected that the study will point to the types of changes (e.g., to farming spaces, practices, etc.) the scientific research results indicate, how the results respond to societal concerns about farm animal welfare, and how the US/EU research programs interact with and influence one another.

In comparing the US and EU research programs, this project will provide information about the ways in which welfare standards are determined in both locales. This information will be useful for policymakers and animal advocates in evaluating both these standards and the use and influence of public and private financial resources in responding to societal concerns about animal welfare. This project will also contribute to the understanding of the environments in which farm animal science takes place, the manner in which it is conducted, and the ways in which it is represented in scientific publications and beyond, thereby enhancing a critical understanding of the function of science in both animal agriculture and human-animal relations in Western society, and reflecting on the mutual influence between science and public opinion/policy. The outcome of the US and EU research has significant implications for many stakeholders ranging from institutions and corporations to the humans and animals whose lives are affected by their actions. As a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement award, this award also will provide support to enable a promising student to establish a strong independent research career.

Project Report

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE The main outcomes of this project are threefold: First, this project illustrates that the welfare of farmed animals is a much more complex issue than is often presented in popular media. The concept of animal welfare and prevailing ideas about it are not simply the result of scientific research on the topic. These concepts, ideas, and any resulting legislation or changes in practices are the outcome of negotiation at a societal level, with the status of scientific research on the matter at particular points in time being one significant factor, but not the only factor. Other factors include the activities and support of the government with regard to research and the activities, settings, and participants of particular research environments that include not only humans but also the animals involved. Second, because the general public is expressing concern over the treatment of animals in intensive farming systems, the US is supporting research on their welfare. Welfare research has a significantly different objective than research on agricultural productivity, although the two can often be combined in practice. With consideration of and research on farm animals' welfare, they are, to certain extent, moving beyond being considered purely productive objects and to being considered, at some level, subjects worthy of protection by the state. Therefore, this project's research has suggested that these animals can be considered a type of political subject. Finally, many public concepts of improvements to farm animal welfare involve enhancements to the animals' external environments to allow for the animals' natural behaviors. These enhancements include enlarged spaces, enrichment objects such as perches for chickens or substances such as straw for pigs, and increased opportunities for social interaction. Farm animal welfare legislation or changes demanded by retailers is often derived from such public concepts. However, many breeds or strains of the typically farmed species (i.e., cattle, chickens, and pigs) in the US have been selectively bred for certain production characteristics, such as exaggerated growth of the breast muscles in chickens raised for meat ("broiler" chickens), that limit the animals' abilities to engage in natural behaviors such as flying or roosting on a perch. Additionally, large modern farming environments may not allow animals to develop their typical social structures. Animals such as broiler chickens are quite obviously the result of both nature and human intervention. In many instances, there is a conflict between public perceptions of how animals' environments can improve their welfare, and the capabilities provided by the structure of the animals' bodies, their genetics, or social groups. All of this indicates that currently proposed/considered changes to farming structures and/or practices may not achieve the welfare- enhancing outcomes desired by the general public. Therefore, there should be more focus on the relationship between the animals' bodies and their environments.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Daniel Hammel
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Clark University
United States
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