Animal Welfare consultant Jim Barrington writes: “Do animals have feelings? It’s a question fundamental to animal welfare and one most people, especially those who have any connection with animals, would probably regard as pointless, as the answer would be obvious. Yet in scientific terms it raises a number of interesting areas of uncertainty that have to be addressed if animal welfare is to be accepted as proper science.

“Are all animals sentient? If not, which are the ones to concentrate upon? What are the techniques available to measure welfare? Is positive welfare and the pleasurable feelings it brings more important than negative welfare and the suffering it may cause? Is time relevant to an animal in the same way it is to a human?

“These were just some of the topics discussed at an international conference held at the Royal Holloway, University of London last week, attracting delegates from around the world. The title of the symposium, organised by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), Measuring Animal Welfare and Applying Scientific Advances: Why Is It Still So Difficult? is an indication that this is an area of scientific research in its infancy. The difficulty lies in finding tangible evidence to gauge and quantify welfare, though there does appear to be some progress on that front.

Jim continues: “While areas studied range from animals in zoos, farms, abattoirs and laboratories through to companion animals, research into the welfare of animals living in the wild was minimal. This is where the information supplied by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM) proved to be so valuable.

“The VAWM poster (pictured right), one of the many submitted by those attending, gives an indication of the complex issues involved in assessing wild animal welfare and makes a valid point. “Where an ecosystem is undisturbed there is no excuse for human intervention – to save the antelope is to starve the lion. However, where man has unbalanced the ecosystem e.g. by removal of apex predators, there is now a welfare argument for intervention.” In other words, ‘wildlife management’.

“Yet animal rights groups and their supporters, in particular those opposed to hunting, feel confident in making unfounded statements on wildlife welfare. It prompts the question why, when experts in the world of animal science find calculating welfare so challenging, do animal rightists find it so easy?”

Jim Barrington is Animal Welfare Consultant to the Countryside Alliance and to the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Managment (VAWM). Follow Jim on Twitter @jimbarrington. If you would like more information on the arguments Jim puts forward in this article, please contact [email protected]