Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare

Lead Research Organisation: University of Chester
Department Name: Theology and Religious Studies


This project addresses an urgent issue that has profound effects on humans, animals, and the wider environment, and in which there is high public interest in the UK. The raising of farmed animals is a major global enterprise with massive impacts on domestic and wild animals, human food and water security, human health, and the environment. In 2013, 77 billion birds and mammals and around 6 trillion fish were used for human food globally, using 78% of available agricultural land, consuming 35% of global cereal output, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions than those from transport globally, and contributing to a wide range of human health problems including antibiotic resistance, zoonotic diseases such as bird and swine flu, and increased incidence of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and stroke from the associated increase in meat consumption. The raising of farmed animals has grown markedly since the mid-20th century, primarily as a result of a revolutionary intensification of production methods. Poultry consumption has increased at three times that of human population growth in each of the past five decades and a 73% rise in demand for meat from 2010 levels is expected by 2050. Progressive intensification in the rearing of farmed animals, high and rising public concern about farmed animal welfare, and uncertainty about UK farmed animal welfare standards post-Brexit make this project timely.

Churches and other Christian organizations in the UK have significant interests in and influence over animal farming in the UK, through ownership of agricultural land, investments in food producers and retailers, participation in policy debates, and consumption of animal products, and will therefore play an important role in public debates about farmed animal welfare. It is striking, therefore, that they currently have no policies concerning farmed animal welfare. This project will produce the first substantive academic discussion of the Christian ethics of farmed animal welfare and, by working with national churches and other organizational partners, will resource the development of new policy and influence institutional practice concerning the raising of farmed animals and consumption of products derived from them. It will also provide a new model of how to engage religious groups and other groups with particular commitments and concerns with the ethical implications of new scientific knowledge and its implications for practice.

The project will use a collaborative research process between an interdisciplinary research team and institutional partners which will result in (1) a framework for institutional policy and practice; (2) a process for engaging institutions with that framework to enable development of policy and changes in practice; (3) the first academic monograph in the field and related journal outputs. The partners committed to this project are major Christian denominations representing the majority of the Christians in the UK (Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, Church of Scotland, Church in Wales, Methodist Church, and United Reformed Church), the globally leading charity addressing farmed animal welfare (Compassion in World Farming), groups representing farmers and veterinarians, and Christian animals organizations. The range of this collaboration and its potential influence to improve welfare outcomes is remarkable and unprecedented. The project will enable institutional changes in practice that will have substantial implications for farmed animal welfare and a resulting impact on human well-being and the environment. These changes will be enabled through a process that draws on graphic illustrators, a performance artist, and change facilitators, to help institutions appreciate the need for change and the route to achieve it. Beyond the funded period, new institutions will be engaged, and a planned successor project in the US will build on this one to generate even greater impacts.

Planned Impact

Short-term impacts (2018-2022)

Impact 1: Changed attitudes among dialogue partners
Since there has been very little deliberation concerning the implications of Christian ethics for farmed animal welfare, opening a dialogue with the church and NGO partners, farmers, church landowners and investors, and church congregations included in the collaborative research process will provoke new thinking and changed attitudes.

Impact 2: New institutional policies and commitments to changed practice
The majority of the impact pathways are via the key objective of developing new institutional policies concerning farmed animal welfare and securing institutional commitments to the key priority actions identified in the framework. Within 6 months of the end of the funded period of the project, we aim to have at least 10 organizations developing institutional policies and committed to the key priority actions. The project enables this through a facilitated change workshop for partners, a commissioned report for the Church Investors Group, and recruiting new institutions to engage via the project conference. Follow-on support will be sought to allow the PI to work with institutions beyond the funded period to support them in policy development.

Medium-term impacts (2021-2025)

Impact 3: Changed attitudes of church members and wider public
The Fairtrade campaign initiated by Christian NGOs in the 1990s, and the recent campaign by the Church of England (CofE) against excessive interest rates charged by payday lenders, are good examples of changes in church policy impacting on the attitudes of church members and the wider public. New church policies in relation to farmed animal welfare will have a similar impact on attitudes, especially where it relates to the practice of congregations (e.g. concerning the consumption of farmed animal products).

Impact 4: Influence on public policy debates about farmed animal welfare standards
New institutional policy and practice and changed public attitudes will both have an influence on the post-Brexit public policy debates about farmed animal welfare. There will be direct influence through encouraging churches to make contributions to these debates (including the CofE bishops in the House of Lords) and indirect influence, as partner organizations affect the attitudes of their members and the wider public.

Long-term impacts (2021 onwards)

Impact 5: Fewer farmed animals in intensive systems and growing proportion in high welfare environments
While the results of the collaborative research process cannot be predicted in advance, it is uncontroversial that at least some elements of the intensive rearing of farmed animals are in need of remedy and that significant improvements in weIfare are unsustainable at current levels of production. Each of Impacts 1-4 will therefore contribute to reducing the numbers of intensively farmed animals and to increasing the proportion of animals raised in high welfare conditions.

Impact 6: Benefits for human health and food/water security, animal welfare, and the environment
Reduced numbers of farmed animals (Impact 5) will contribute to mitigating some of the broad impacts of the large-scale intensive farming of animals for human well-being, animal welfare, and the environment (detailed at the start of the Case for Support).

Impacts from US successor project
Finally, success in achieving changes in institutional policy and practice (Impact 2), together with the framework and academic outputs, will enable an application to US funders for a successor project in the US (target 2023-26), which will have its own pathways to Impacts 1-6 on a significantly greater scale. The US academic observers on this project will be key advisors for this successor project. The Public Policy Program of the Henry Luce Foundation is one potential funding source.

Figure 3 in Pathways to Impact depicts the routes to these impacts as a flowchart.


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