Animal Harms and Food Production: Informing Ethical Choices

Hampton, Jordan O. and Hyndman, Timothy H. and Allen, Benjamin L. ORCID: and Fischer, Bob (2021) Animal Harms and Food Production: Informing Ethical Choices. Animals, 11 (5):1225. pp. 1-40.

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Consideration of animal welfare in food choices has become an influential contemporary theme. Traditional animal welfare views about food have been largely restricted to direct and intentional harms to livestock in intensive animal agriculture settings. However, many harms to animals arising from diverse food production practices in the world are exerted indirectly and unintentionally and often affect wildlife. Here we apply a qualitative analysis of food production by considering the breadth of harms caused by different food production systems to wild as well as domestic animals. Production systems are identified that produce relatively few and relatively many harms. The ethical implications of these findings are discussed for consumers concerned with the broad animal welfare impacts of their food choices. Ethical food choices have become an important societal theme in post-industrial countries. Many consumers are particularly interested in the animal welfare implications of the various foods they may choose to consume. However, concepts in animal welfare are rapidly evolving towards consideration of all animals (including wildlife) in contemporary approaches such as 'One Welfare'. This approach requires recognition that negative impacts (harms) may be intentional and obvious (e.g., slaughter of livestock) but also include the under-appreciated indirect or unintentional harms that often impact wildlife (e.g., land clearing). This is especially true in the Anthropocene, where impacts on non-human life are almost ubiquitous across all human activities. We applied the 'harms' model of animal welfare assessment to several common food production systems and provide a framework for assessing the breadth (not intensity) of harms imposed. We considered all harms caused to wild as well as domestic animals, both direct effects and indirect effects. We described 21 forms of harm and considered how they applied to 16 forms of food production. Our analysis suggests that all food production systems harm animals to some degree and that the majority of these harms affect wildlife, not livestock. We conclude that the food production systems likely to impose the greatest overall breadth of harms to animals are intensive animal agriculture industries (e.g., dairy) that rely on a secondary food production system (e.g., cropping), while harvesting of locally available wild plants, mushrooms or seaweed is likely to impose the least harms. We present this conceptual analysis as a resource for those who want to begin considering the complex animal welfare trade-offs involved in their food choices.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Institute for Life Sciences and the Environment - Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Systems (1 Aug 2018 -)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Institute for Life Sciences and the Environment - Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Systems (1 Aug 2018 -)
Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2022 23:27
Last Modified: 30 Mar 2022 04:14
Uncontrolled Keywords: agriculture; animal welfare; ethics; harms; harvesting; hunting; ranking; wildlife
Fields of Research (2008): 05 Environmental Sciences > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050211 Wildlife and Habitat Management
07 Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences > 0702 Animal Production > 070207 Humane Animal Treatment
Fields of Research (2020): 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410407 Wildlife and habitat management
30 AGRICULTURAL, VETERINARY AND FOOD SCIENCES > 3003 Animal production > 300306 Animal welfare
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): D Environment > 96 Environment > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960804 Farmland, Arable Cropland and Permanent Cropland Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity
Socio-Economic Objectives (2020): 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1806 Terrestrial systems and management > 180606 Terrestrial biodiversity
10 ANIMAL PRODUCTION AND ANIMAL PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 1099 Other animal production and animal primary products > 109902 Animal welfare
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