The Five Freedoms have had major impact on animal welfare thinking internationally. However, despite clear initial statements that the words ‘freedom from’ should indicate ‘as free as possible from’, the Freedoms have come to be represented as absolute or fundamental freedoms, even rights, by some animal advocate and other groups. Moreover, a marked increase in scientific understanding over the last two decades shows that the Freedoms do not capture the more nuanced knowledge of the biological processes that is germane to understanding animal welfare and which is now available to guide its management. For example, the named negative experiences of thirst, hunger, discomfort and pain, and others identified subsequently, including breathlessness, nausea, dizziness, debility, weakness and sickness, can never be eliminated, merely temporarily neutralised.
Each one is a genetically embedded element that motivates animals to behave in particular ways to obtain specific life-sustaining resources, avoid or reduce physical harm or facilitate recovery from infection or injury. Their undoubted negativity creates a necessary sense of urgency to respond, without which animals would not survive. Also, the temporary neutralisation of these survival-critical affects does not in and of itself generate positive experience. This questions the commonly held assumption that good animal welfare will result when these internally generated negative affects are minimised. Animals may also experience other negative affects that include anxiety, fear, panic, frustration, anger, helplessness, loneliness, boredom and depression. These situation-related affects reflect animals’ perceptions of their external circumstances. Although they are elicited by threatening, cramped, barren and/or isolated conditions, they can often be replaced by positive affects when animals are kept with congenial others in spacious, stimulus-rich and safe environments which provide opportunities for them to engage in behaviours they find rewarding.
These behaviours may include environment-focused exploration and food acquisition activities as well as animal-to-animal interactive activities, all of which can generate various forms of comfort, pleasure, interest, confidence and a sense of control. Animal welfare management should aim to reduce the intensity of survival-critical negative affects to tolerable levels that nevertheless still elicit the required behaviours, and should also provide opportunities for animals to behave in ways they find rewarding, noting that poor management of survival-critical affects reduces animals’ motivation to utilize such rewarding opportunities. This biologically more accurate understanding provides support for reviewing the adequacy of provisions in current codes of welfare or practice in order to ensure that animals are given greater opportunities to experience positive welfare states. The purpose is to help animals to have lives worth living, which is not possible when the predominant focus of such codes is on survival-critical measures. Finally, an updated characterisation of animal welfare that incorporates this more accurate understanding is presented.
Mellor J. D. (2016). Updating animal welfare thinking: Moving beyond the "five freedoms" towards "a life worth living." Animals 6, 21 doi:10.3390/ani6030021