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Animal welfare, economics and policy

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Abstract This discussion paper ('scoping study' in Defra terminology) considers the topic of animal welfare – usually associated with ethics and moral values, or with animal science and ethology – as an explicitly economic concept. Recognising that the value of farm animals is dominated by their productivity in food production, it develops the logic for their welfare being perceived as an added and independent element of human value (benefit or cost). Following an exploration of the valuation of animal welfare within the conventional economics framework of 'demand', the paper sets out a simple model of the inherent conflict between animal welfare (as perceived by humans) and livestock productivity (as pursued by increasingly 'intensive' methods of production). This is essentially a conflict between the animals' benefit and human benefit. An examination of the choice of animal welfare standards within this context points out the potential divergence between socially preferred and commercially profitable welfare levels in livestock production. The costs of improved animal welfare are discussed in terms of their effect on final food prices (their ultimate economic impact) and the methods for placing a value on such improvements is explored. Because animal welfare is evidently a 'public good' externality there is an obvious role for government policy in establishing and enforcing standards. The issue of how to define appropriate policy objectives in relation to welfare standards, and the various measure for pursuing those objectives, are discussed in some detail. The potential economic inconsistencies of domestic animal welfare policies in a food importing context are pointed out. The paper closes by discussing some outstanding 'uncertainties' regarding the economic approach to farm animal welfare and suggest some areas for further work.

Deborah Maron

Issue February
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Farm animals
  3. Policy and Planning