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Animal Harms and Food Production: Informing Ethical Choices

Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia
School of Veterinary Medicine, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
Institute for Life Sciences and the Environment, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, QLD 4350, Australia
Centre for African Conservation Ecology, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth 6034, South Africa
Department of Philosophy, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX 78666, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Thomas Blaha
Animals 2021, 11(5), 1225;
Received: 24 March 2021 / Revised: 17 April 2021 / Accepted: 20 April 2021 / Published: 23 April 2021
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Ethics)
Consideration of animal welfare in food choices has become an influential contemporary theme. Traditional animal welfare views about food have been largely restricted to direct and intentional harms to livestock in intensive animal agriculture settings. However, many harms to animals arising from diverse food production practices in the world are exerted indirectly and unintentionally and often affect wildlife. Here we apply a qualitative analysis of food production by considering the breadth of harms caused by different food production systems to wild as well as domestic animals. Production systems are identified that produce relatively few and relatively many harms. The ethical implications of these findings are discussed for consumers concerned with the broad animal welfare impacts of their food choices.
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. View Full-Text
Keywords: agriculture; animal welfare; ethics; harms; harvesting; hunting; ranking; wildlife agriculture; animal welfare; ethics; harms; harvesting; hunting; ranking; wildlife
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MDPI and ACS Style

Hampton, J.O.; Hyndman, T.H.; Allen, B.L.; Fischer, B. Animal Harms and Food Production: Informing Ethical Choices. Animals 2021, 11, 1225.

AMA Style

Hampton JO, Hyndman TH, Allen BL, Fischer B. Animal Harms and Food Production: Informing Ethical Choices. Animals. 2021; 11(5):1225.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Hampton, Jordan O., Timothy H. Hyndman, Benjamin L. Allen, and Bob Fischer. 2021. "Animal Harms and Food Production: Informing Ethical Choices" Animals 11, no. 5: 1225.

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