Animal Harms and Food Production: Informing Ethical Choices
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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.
CitationHampton, J. O., Hyndman, T. H., Allen, B. L., & Fischer, B. (2021). Animal harms and food production: Informing ethical choices. Animals, 11(5), 1225.
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