Recently I came across a journal article entitled "Farm Animal Welfare: A New Repertoire of Nature-Society Relations or Modernism Re-embedded?". After a series of experiments, the journal concluded that there is a strong correlation between human welfare and animal welfare in an animal husbandry context. The human here includes farm workers, veterinarian, and any individuals who have direct interactions with the livestock being reared. Members of the public have always raised concerns over animal welfare in terms of adequate nutrition, appropriate living condition and environment, good medical treatments, and humane slaughter/harvest processes. However, it is rare for activists who fight against mass-produced farming system to raise awareness against inhumane treatment of farm workers. Society has put so much emphasis on animal welfare that she often forgets the value of human lives.
The experiments were conducted on two separate farms, where the first took good care of its workers' welfare by giving high salary, good working hours, and less mechanized working patterns; while the second deprives the workers from such benefits. It is assessed that the first farm yields higher volume of dairy milk per day as compared to the second farm, keeping other variables constant. Upon discussing the results, Henry Buller, the co-author of the test, hypothesized that heightened workers' welfare could lead to increased motivation to spend more time interacting and taking closer observation of the animals. As a result, there were faster identification of sick animals, swifter response to keep the proximity clean, and greater self-involvement & responsibility overall. Although animal happiness could not be indexed/calculated, but increased yield might be enough to suggest that these livestock were living comfortably in a less agitated manner. In addition, I was completely taken aback when the paper posed a question that addressed the fundamental motivation to fight for animal welfare: "would increases in living space, food availability, and time to graze outdoor improve their happiness?"
Allow me to comment on the above question, by both reinforcing and rebutting this rhetorical inquiry.
First, I do not believe that family farms can offer better living conditions than corporate farms. Family farm is not the repository for all that is good, and neither is corporate farm the incarnation of all evil. I have witnessed family farms that are dirty and poorly ventilated in order to cut down costs, and corporate farms with clean and easily accessible food storage. Even if livestock raised in family farm can have more time outdoor (which is what animal activists have always believed to be an important factor to increase happiness), they are highly exposed/susceptible to pests and diseases that can eventually lead to miserable and painful lives. Hence, I believe that an increase in living space and outdoor time do not necessarily result in increased happiness of these animals.
Second, although the journal has established the correlation between human welfare and animal welfare, I'm pessimistic that there will be a causation relationship made anytime soon. I believe that both workers' welfare and improved living conditions are factors that need to work in tandem to increase animal welfare. One is unable to work if the other is not fulfilled; both have to be acknowledged to make livestock lives in comfort. Imagine a farm where the workers are highly motivated, but the space allowed for these animals to live in is far too small; imagine a second farm where the workers are not motivated, but the amount of food available is abundant and that these animals are free to roam about. In the first case, sure animals daily needs are met, but they will not be able to live normally. In the second case, without workers supervision/control, the more aggressive animals will tend to dominate food supply, leaving the weaker ones in hunger. From such illustration, it is possible that the author overlooked the importance of animal welfare as raised by animal activists, and get too involved in advocating for human welfare that he forgot the interdependency between the two.
Thus, let us consider both animal's and human's welfare in our endeavor to simulate a comfortable animal husbandry ecosystem that can change the way we have always perceived a conventional corporate farming/slaughter house (inhumane and unnatural). Because a happy animal will yield more product. More product means less animals to be reared. Ultimately, the environment can also benefit from reduced carbon footprint and methane emission.
Journal article taken from:
Buller, H. and Morris, C. (2003), Farm Animal Welfare: A New Repertoire of Nature-Society Relations or Modernism Re-embedded ?. Sociologia Ruralis, 43: 216–237. doi: 10.1111/1467-9523.00242