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· 9 min read
Neila Ben Sassi

With an increasing human population, the number of animals raised for food has considerably increased in the last few decades. The world produced 800 million tons of milk, 340 million tons of meat in 2018 (Figure 1) and 86.67 million metric tons of eggs 1 in 2019.


Figure 1: World meat production by livestock type from 1961 to 2018. (Source:Our World in Data)

Food animals are raised in different production systems where proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, handling, and slaughter are the responsibility of humans. There is a large variety of production systems2 but some of the most familiar are the intensive system confining animals in large numbers and relatively small spaces and the extensive system providing animals with grazing opportunities. In almost all production systems, animals can confront a number of conditions that might impair their overall wellbeing. The study of an animal’s physical, physiological and mental state is referred to as animal welfare 3. According to the World Organization for Animal Health, animal welfare is “the physical and mental state of an animal in relation to the conditions in which it lives and dies”4. Based on the European Union5 and the UK Animal welfare Act 20066, reducing animal suffering by enabling preventive action to be taken before suffering occurs is the main point highlighted when defining animal welfare. Although steps have been taken to address the topic, livestock animals still go through welfare issues including chronic fear and pain, injuries and diseases, and movement deprivation to name a few. It took us a long time to come to a clear definition of animal welfare and ways to improve it at the farm level. In this blog, I will explore the main events that impacted the concept of animal welfare and how humans are studying this topic in farm animals. I will also present an overview on how we attempt to frame the concept of animal welfare in the Global Burden of Animal Diseases (GBADs) program analytical structure.

Key time points in the history of Animal welfare

For centuries, domesticated animals have played a major role in the life of humans. Through traditional farming techniques, these animals have always assisted humans in activities related to agriculture, transport, and trade. With the beginning of the industrialization, farming systems’ main goal was to increase productivity in order to feed a poor, but growing human population. This resulted in developing housing technologies to confine more animals and enhancing productivity by providing high quality feed. However, confining animals in crowded environments started to result in poor body conditions with the appearance of injuries, lameness, and diseases. It is with the publishing of the book “Animal Machines”7 by Ruth Harrison in 1964 that steps in a sequence of events to promote the concept of animal welfare as a public concern started to be taken (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Main events that contributed to setting Animal welfare as a public concern in Europe and the world.

Another important event was the forming of the Brambell Committee by the UK government, whose purpose was to report on welfare conditions in British livestock farming. In 1965, the Committee issued its Report to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals Kept under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems 8. This report paved the way to issue a list of concerns that the animal should be free of to ensure a decent welfare condition. This list was referred to as the five freedoms9 which was published after the creation of the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1979. These freedoms are:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst: by ready access to fresh water and a balanced and nourishing diet.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease: by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom from Fear and Distress: by ensuring housing and management conditions which avoid mental suffering.
  5. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior: by providing sufficient space for self-care (grooming, dust-bathing, stretching) and nesting, opportunities for social behavior with animals of their own kind.

Producing more meat at a lower cost comes now with a social pressure about the quality-of-life animals are experiencing. This paved the way to national, regional and international animal welfare regulations, private codes and practices10. The Five Freedoms were widely used as the basis in developing animal welfare guidelines, assessment protocols and audits. After introducing a Protocol on Animal Welfare in the Amsterdam Treaty11 in 1997, the European Union (EU) was the first to publish animal welfare directives to ensure all country members adopt minimum guidelines when keeping animals for food production (Directive 98/581)5. Species specific EU directives were published later along with regulations specific to animal transport (Directive 1/20059)12 and slaughter (Directive 1099/2009)13. Regarding international organizations, the OIE first published its Animal Welfare Standards4 for terrestrial and aquatic animals in 2004. National and international groups like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) adopted their own guidelines and protocols to provide an auditing and final product labelling service.

Most recent initiatives for animal welfare are taking place in Europe. The ‘End the Cage Age’14 is a tool proposed by the European Commission to enhance citizens’ direct participation in policy making. It was launched in 2018 with the main demand to ban the use of cages in animal farming, providing animals with the opportunity to perform normal behaviors. The European Commission will propose legislation to prohibit the use of cages for laying hens, pullets, broiler and layer breeders, quail, ducks, geese and rabbits. This in addition to prohibiting farrowing crates and sow stalls and individual calf pens where not already prohibited. Another European initiative is the Farm to Fork Strategy15 which aims to accelerate Europe’s transition to a sustainable food system. In addition to promoting a neutral or positive environmental impact, the Commission announced that existing animal welfare legislation would be fully revised by 2023. The new legislation aims to ensure a higher level of protection, be broader in scope, easier to enforce and aligned with the latest scientific evidence.

All these events continue to shape the way we address animal welfare as citizens and as consumers. In addition to national and international guidelines to ensure farm animals are protected, animal welfare organizations and movements work on increasing consumer awareness about animal welfare. It is in recognizing where we fail as a society in providing the best environment and management to food animals that we will start to realize the impact of poor animal welfare on the global society and economy.

Animal welfare in the scope of GBADs

In addition to the fact that animal disease represents an impairment of animal welfare to a degree, the burden of animal welfare will eventually be included in GBADs’ economic estimations. This will be tackled through an analysis of the welfare factors that contribute to the appearance of disease on one hand and an estimation of the welfare impairment after disease emergence on the other hand. While the methodology is in progress, specific points of interest will be studied:

  • The impact of animal welfare policy on farm economics on a national and regional level.
  • The impact of the production system (including housing and management) on animal welfare and its economic consequences.
  • Production systems, behavioral outcomes and its relationship with disease.

These goals, although seemingly ambitious, will be achieved over a long period of time. Generating data is not currently in the scope of GBADs. However, the use of open data sources, private data and/or expert elicitation data will be the basis of our analyses.


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  3. Fraser, D., Weary, D. M., Pajor, E. A., & Milligan, B. N. (1997). A scientific conception of animal welfare that reflects ethical concerns. Animal Welfare, 6, 187–205.
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  8. Brambell, R., (1965). Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire Into the Welfare of Animals Kept Under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems, Cmd. (Great Britain. Parliament), H.M. Stationery Office, 1–84.
  9. Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare. (2009, April). Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC). Retrieved May 2022, from
  10. Simonin, D., & Gavinelli. A. (2019). The European Union legislation on animal welfare: state of play, enforcement and future activities. In: Hild S. & Schweitzer L. (Eds), Animal Welfare: From Science to Law. 59-70.
  11. Amsterdam Treaty. (1997, November 10). Retrieved May 2022, from
  12. European Union. (2004, December 22). Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 of 22 December 2004 on the protection of animals during transport. EUR-Lex. Retrieved February 2022, from
  13. European Union. (2009, September 24). Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing. EUR-Lex. Retrieved January 2022, from
  14. Compassion in World Farming. (2018). End the Cage Age. Https://Www.Endthecageage.Eu/. Retrieved May 2022, from
  15. Farm to Fork Strategy. (2020). European Commission. Retrieved May 2022, from