June 22, 2019
How Good? Ethical Criteria for a ‘Good Life’ for Farm Animals
The Farm Animal Welfare Council’s concept of a Good Life gives an idea of an animal’s quality of life that is over and above that of a mere life worth living. The concept needs explanation and clarification, in order to be meaningful, particularly for consumers who purchase farm animal produce. The concept could allow assurance schemes to apply the label to assessments of both the potential of each method of production, conceptualised in ways expected to enhance consumers’ engagement such as ‘naturalness’ and ‘freedom’; and the concept of a life worth living as a safeguard threshold below which no animal’s actual welfare should fall, based on each animal’s overall affective states. This may provide a framework for development of the Good Life concept, within scientific and sociological fields, in order to allow reliable and influential use by assessors, consumers and retailers.
The idea of a life worth living is, as the name suggests, one that is valuable for the animal—which, on currently hegemonic approaches, would focus on the animal’s feelings (pleasure and pain) and, indirectly, causes thereof (e.g. ill health or poor environments). FAWC (2009), Yeates (2011) and Green and Mellor (2011) have related the concept of a LWL to animals’ affective states and/or quality of life (QOL), which can be considered as an aggregation of an individual’s affective states over a period of time into an overall assessment (McMillan 2000, 2003; Yeates and Main 2009; Yeates 2013). These affective states can be both negative and positive, including comfort, pleasure, interest and confidence (FAWC 2009), engagements and achievements (Yeates and Main 2008). Perhaps there are also some affective states that would not be included in a concept of quality-of-life, e.g. if they are not valuable (positively or negatively) for the animal. Whatever the exact nature of positive affective states, we can assert (and analytically define) that a positive affective state is worth experiencing, all else being equal; a negative affective state is worth avoiding.
In its assessment, the LWL concept still requires complex and somewhat subjective judgements. Nevertheless, it has several advantages (Yeates 2011). It relates both to what is important to the animal (insofar as it concerns whether the life is worth living for the animal) and to what is important for farmers and consumers. It is important to animals in that it relates to what matters to them in their life (i.e. not the instrumental value of the animals to humans). Specifically, it provides a realist threshold—insofar as it uses a life without experiences as a threshold against which lives are assessed, in comparison to other animal welfare thresholds that are more relativistic (or at least relative), such as “acceptable” or “severe” (Yeates 2011). It is important for consumers insofar as it seems understandable for customers, and may be considered directly morally relevant (insofar as pleasure and pain are deemed to have intrinsic value), particularly to ethical consumer decisions (insofar as consumers would not want to support the creation of animals who would have been better never to have lived). One disadvantage of the concept is that the underlying moral value for consumers seems relatively un-ambitious: i.e. more aspirational consumers might want their food to come from animals whose lives are considerably better than being merely worth living. Another disadvantage is that it excludes other ethical concepts that consumers may have, such as naturalness and animal liberty.