In September 2017 representatives from EFA attended the International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare (WAFL) in Ede, Netherlands. In the November issue of EggNotes we discussed learnings related to how animal welfare can be measured on farm. There are three types of measurements typically used: Resource based, management based, and outcomes based. There was also an opportunity to participate in a workshop “towards a unified definition of animal welfare among animal welfare scientists.”

Why is it important to define animal welfare? Until there is an agreement on how to define welfare, it is difficult to assess it! A lack of consensus in this area has resulted in conflicting legislation. An example of this is the different decisions made by Australia and the EU with respect to sow gestation stalls. Both regulatory teams reviewed the same literature but the EU decided the science should be interpreted that welfare is poor and banned gestation stalls while Australia said the evidence didn’t support that the housing system was in and of itself a welfare concern. This was largely as a result of different definitions of welfare.

Over the past number of years EFA has worked to communicate the concept of the Five Freedoms in producer resources and presentations. The Five Freedoms are an internationally recognized set of guidelines originally developed in the 1960s. The Five Freedoms have traditionally represented guiding principles for many livestock organizations in terms of animal welfare and include:

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from fear and distress
4. Freedom to express normal behavior
5. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease

Emerging from the workshop was that a different model, the Three Circles Model, may be gaining momentum as a preferred definition for welfare. The Three Circles Model addresses both the object science and human values used in evaluating welfare. Introduced by David Fraser, Dan Weary, Ed Pajor and Barry Milligan in 1997, the Three Circles model addresses three concepts to evaluate animal welfare while taking the Five Freedoms to a deeper level. The Three Circles are as follows:

1. Basic health and functioning. This concept addresses the physical fitness of the animal, including good health, normal body function, and normal growth and development. This part of the circle relates back to the freedoms from hunger and thirst discomfort (Freedom 2); and pain, injury and disease (Freedom 3).
2. Natural living. This part of the circle emphasizes that animals should be able to lead reasonably natural lives. This includes being able to perform important, normal behaviors (e.g., dust bathing for chickens) and to have some natural elements in their environment (e.g., sunlight, fresh air or social contact). This concept relates back to the freedom to express normal behavior (Freedom 4).
3. Affective states. This circle considers the emotional state of the animal in that animals should feel mentally well and should not be subjected to excessive negative emotions. Negative emotions include unpleasant states such as pain, hunger and distress. Beyond just avoiding the negative, animals should be able to experience positive emotions in the forms of pleasure or contentment (e.g., play or social contact). Affective States relate back to the freedom from hunger and thirst; pain, injury and disease; and fear and distress (Freedom 5).

Using the diagram, you can see how each of three concepts can overlap, but that there can also be times when specific practices necessitate making trade offs:

The Three Circles Model allows us to better understand our own bias in evaluating welfare and why there may be different opinions of what defines good welfare. For example, if one person thinks that basic health and functioning is the most important part of the model, they will likely not always agree with someone who places more emphasis on natural living. Using the Three Circles Model can be a tool to facilitate conversation with different stakeholders and to see welfare in different ways, including critically evaluating our own natural bias. What do you think? Do each of the circles carry equal weight or is one more important than another?