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How should the welfare of fetal and neurologically immature postnatal animals be protected?

By M. Campbell, D. J. Mellor, P. Sandoe

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Legal protection of the welfare of prenatal animals has not previously been addressed as a discrete subject within the academic literature on animal welfare, ethics and law. This paper aims to rectify this by reviewing the protections (or absence of protections) provided for fetuses by existing legislation in various jurisdictions, and considering the extent to which legal protection of animal fetuses can be justified on animal welfare grounds. Questions related to the need to protect the welfare of neurologically immature postnatal animals are also considered. We argue that there are reasons to protect animal fetuses, both in order to protect fetuses themselves against possible suffering, and in order to protect the animals which fetuses will become against negative welfare impacts that originate prenatally. We review the science on whether fetuses can suffer, and argue that extant regulations do not fully reflect current scientific understanding. Following the precautionary principle, we further argue that regulators should consider the possibility that fetuses and neurologically immature postnatal animals may suffer due to sub-cortically based 'raw basic affects' (ie relatively undifferentiated experiences of discomfort suggested to be generated by neural processing at levels below the cerebral cortex). Furthermore, we show that there are reasons for affording fetuses protection in order to safeguard the long-term welfare of future animals. However, it may be possible to provide such protection via rules or laws relating to the use of certain techniques and the management of pregnant animals, rather than via direct legal protection of fetuses themselves. In order to provide such protection effectively we need to know more about the relationship between maternal nutrition, stress, exercise, management and fetal health, and about the impact of the timing of a fetal insult on long-term postnatal welfare.

Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 23
Issue 4
Pages 369-379
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Publisher Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
DOI 10.7120/09627286.23.4.369
Language English
Author Address Department of Production and Population Health, The Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead Lane, South Mymms, Herts AL9 7TA,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal nutrition
  2. Animals
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Brain
  5. Cerebral cortex
  6. Ethics
  7. Exercise
  8. Fetus
  9. Health
  10. Humans
  11. Human sexual and reproductive health
  12. Law and legal issues
  13. Laws and regulations
  14. Legislation
  15. Mammals
  16. Men
  17. Methodologies
  18. mothers
  19. Nutrition
  20. peer-reviewed
  21. pregnancy
  22. Primates
  23. Protection
  24. Psychiatry and psychology
  25. regulations
  26. Social psychology and social anthropology
  27. systems
  28. Techniques
  29. timing
  30. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed