When we think about climate change, we think about the worsening global economy, the extreme temperatures and the loss of natural space. But what about biodiversity?
Dr Steven McCulloch, a senior lecturer in Human-Animal Studies, spoke with us to share his perspective on animal welfare and the need for change.
Steven, a qualified vet and head of research at the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF), discovered his interest during secondary school. “Most vets interested in animal welfare tend to go down the science root and become animal welfare scientists, but I had a bit more of an interest in ethics and policy,” he says.
As part of his work with CAWF, Steven recently published his research on farrowing crates for pigs and public opinion on farmed animal welfare. “My work tends to be driven by what I feel will have the greatest potential for impact, and because of the numbers involved, that’s often to do with farmed animals.”
In the UK, we rear over one billion land-farmed animals and 95% of those are chickens for meat. Steven adds: “We consumer around 4 to 5 billion marine animals each year yet the UK has 0 animal welfare protections for those.”
For Steven, sentience is key. “Sentience is the capacity to experience pleasure and pain. If a being or animal can experience pleasure and pain, and other emotions too, then it can have a positive or negative mental state and a life worth living or not worth living. Ultimately, it can suffer.”
Professor John Webster, a previous superior to Steven, advised that: “If you’re interested in improving animal welfare, then you should focus on chickens.”
As part of Steven’s research, he quotes The Better Chicken Commitment (BCC). Currently, the UK slaughters chickens at the age of 6 weeks. This is due to the artificial selection and breeding processes that are currently legal. “Consequently, about 20% of chickens, or 200 million birds, develop lameness, and for 2 weeks of their 6 week lives, are in a lot of pain,” he says.
“The BCC would improve the lives of potentially about 200 million chickens a year. The Government Animal Health Welfare Pathway subsidy system for farmers is committed to it as a priority area,” he adds.
Alongside this, Steven has stressed the impact of implications occurring as a result of Brexit. “For those who campaigned for Brexit, one of their arguments was that outside of the European Union we could ban the export of live animals… Banning the live export of animals is a Conservative manifesto pledge and through the Kept Animals Bill and Boris Johnson’s Government, this ban was passing through Parliament,”
“Unfortunately, due to political changes, this has been stalled. There is now a lot of pressure from Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) to continue with this Kept Animals Bill and pass it as an act of law.”
Since leaving the EU, the UK is now able to determine its own agriculture policy, which is why the Government has passed the Agriculture Law – an act to authorise expenditure for specific agricultural purposes.
However, Steven advises that the Government currently prioritise paying farmers for the land they own with taxpayers’ money as opposed to satisfying what the British public wants. For example, 88% of the UK thinks that cages are cruel, so why is public money not being utilised for public needs?
Steven believes that a shift in financial priorities would lead to the subsidising of farmers to help the transition to the BCC as well as subsidies for slower-growing chickens and the phasing out of farrowing crates for pigs.
As a lecturer in Human-Animal studies, Steven agrees that animal welfare should be more widely considered throughout the education curriculum: “We recommend that animal welfare and sustainability, due to their close relationship, should be within the school curriculum. For example, livestock farming produces significant greenhouse gas emissions, local pollution, and impacts on biodiversity.”
But he’s not the only one. NGO’s such as the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming have been campaigning for compulsory animal welfare education for a long time, with recent polls showing that between 80-90% of the British public support this.
Alongside the rise in social media, we have witnessed activists sharing videos of animals being harmed in hopes of raising awareness. For Steven, he recognises that this is an act of good intentions but of course, it’s a shame to see the animals in distress. However, he believes that it’s extremely important to document these activities.
Within the UK, “there’s a real public and democratic issue related to this. I think it’s accepted that there are benefits to the exposure of these sorts of activities, even though sometimes it may involve illegal activities. For example, through trespassing. But I think there's a wide acceptance that this kind of direct action is acceptable as long as it doesn't cause violence and physical harm,” he says.
“As rational and moral beings, we humans have a duty to make what difference we can. There are animal welfare benefits, but also environmental and public health benefits to reduced meat consumption,” says Steven.
Steven advises people to make changes to their lives through acts of purchasing RSPCA Assured or Soil Association foods, as well as reading widely about policy updates. He urges people to act politically, whether that be through writing to their MP, signing up for emails from NGOs or being a thought leader.
Read more from Dr. Steven Mcculloch here:
● Garratt, J.K. and McCulloch, S. (2023). Wild Fish Feel Pain — But They Have No Welfare Protections. Sentient Media. Read it online
● Garratt, J.K. and McCulloch, S. (2022). Wild Fish Welfare in UK Commercial Sea Fisheries: Qualitative Analysis of Stakeholder Views. Animals 12, no. 20L 2756. Read it online
● McCulloch, S. (2022). Banning Farrowing Crates in the UK: Transitioning to Free Farrowing to Meet the Welfare Needs of Pigs. Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation: London, UK. Read it online
● McCulloch, S. (2022). Celebrating and discussing progress in animal welfare at the UK Parliament. The UoW Blog
● Chlorinated Chicken Brexit: Brexit, trade deals & sentient beings https://chlorinatedchickenbrexit.com