Free to Be You and Me… the Animal Version: Corporations discuss the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare

Generally, these Freedoms say that animals should have the opportunity to be themselves. Just like people, animals should be able to be comfortable, healthy, do what comes naturally to them, and be surrounded by their own kind.

Remember when we were kids and our parents told us to just be ourselves? We eventually figured out that being ourselves is important to our overall ability to thrive and be healthy. When we’re truly comfortable with ourselves and surrounded by friends and family who understand our individual uniqueness, that’s when we’re at our best. And the same is true for animals – they’re at their happiest and most productive when they can just be themselves.

The Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms are a standard for how to care for the farm animals who produce our food, like egg-laying hens and dairy cows, or are raised for consumption, like pigs. Generally, these Freedoms say that animals should have the opportunity to be themselves. Just like people, animals should be able to be comfortable, healthy, do what comes naturally to them, and be surrounded by their own kind. More specifically, people raising farm animals should provide them with:

Freedom from hunger and thirst- by ready access to fresh water and a diet that maintains full health and vigor. Did you know that hens have different calls for food? Their calls for food increase when they find something particularly tasty.

Freedom from discomfort- by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area. In order for hens to be comfortable, they need to be able to have the ability to move around. Caged hens spend most of their life living in a space smaller than an iPad!

Freedom from pain, injury or disease- by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment of medical problems. Hens in caged systems are much more likely to spread diseases like salmonella. In addition, the stress of being in a cage can make them more susceptible to injury and disease.

Freedom to express normal behavior- by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind. Hens are known to be social animals, and unlike caged chickens, cage-free hens choose to spend their days together – from scratching about for food to taking dust baths.

Freedom from fear and distress- by ensuring conditions and treatment do not cause mental suffering. Cage-free hens are far less stressed than caged ones, making them more resilient, content, and healthy.

Originally developed in 1965 as part of a United Kingdom study on intensive farming, the Five Freedoms have been widely adopted across the globe by veterinarians, animal welfare advocates, and, more recently, are now being considered by corporations. This is a big step towards increasing the welfare of 300 million hens in North America!

Corporate Consideration

This past October, The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) brought together their corporate members (think Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Dannon, and other big names) and invited guests (including WSPA) for the first time ever to discuss the importance of animal welfare in food production. TSC is a member-based organization with a vision of changing the way consumer goods are produced by providing science-based strategies for improving their environmental, social and economic impacts. The meeting in October was an important move forward, as more corporations respond to growing consumer interest in how animals are treated and their food is produced. 

Defining the term “animal welfare” was the critical first step in advancing this conversation. TSC staff proposed to members and guests that animal welfare means that animals are healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and are not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Further, animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling, and humane slaughter.

Sound familiar? You guessed it, the Five Freedoms made their way into the definition that corporations are now considering as the base standard of care for all animals. It’s just a start, but certainly a step in the right direction! Together we can move the world to protect animals and help millions of hens in North America.

By Kara A. Mergl, U.S. Manager of Corporate Engagement

Kara is currently the US Manager for Corporate Engagement at World Animal Protection where she consults with businesses on their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies. She holds a MS in Social Policy and a Master of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a BA from Moravian College in Psychology and Art History.