It’s a mistake to ignore the effect of our public policies on wild and domestic animals.
Policymakers tend to consider a number of variables in making decisions, but the wellfare of animals is rarely among them. That, say scientists, needs to change.
“Animal welfare is often ignored in policymaking, despite its relevance across many domains ranging from food systems to biomedical research to climate policy,” says Mark Budolfson, a faculty member of the Center for Population-Level Bioethics at the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research who was a coauthor of a study. “Part of the reason animal welfare is ignored is that policymakers currently lack established methods for integrating animal welfare into decision-making.”
Animal welfare rarely features in considerations, the scientists say, citing the example of no-kill animal shelters that help offset public discomfort with euthanizing unwanted animals. “A policy question might be: Should these animal shelters be publicly subsidized to avoid having to euthanize pets if those subsidies diverted resources from other human interests?” they write.
Similar thought should be given to various other policies involving the wellbeing of animals, according to Bob Fischer, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at Texas State University.
“It is commonplace for decision makers to weigh the costs and benefits of different policies,” he says. “We describe emerging methods that allow animal welfare impacts to be included in those calculations.”
These methods involve interdisciplinary research to quantify animal welfare in various domains, including policy debates.
“There are so many areas where animal welfare matters, such as when governments aim to improve farm productivity while reducing land use and greenhouse gas emissions,” Budolfson says.
“Unfortunately, some of the most straightforward ways of doing this have negative implications for animal welfare, so policymakers should ask ‘When, if ever, is it better to increase environmental sustainability if it reduces animal welfare?'” he adds.
Importantly, our policies should consider the wellfare of all animals, whether domesticated or wild, stresses Noah Scovronick, of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.
“The bottom line is that it’s a mistake to ignore the effect of our public policies on wild and domestic animals,” Scovronick says.
“Our decisions affect other species, and in turn other species affect us, whether it’s through diseases that can be transmitted back and forth, through the productivity of our food supply, or any of many other possible examples.”