A Critique of FAWC’s Five Freedoms as a Framework for the Analysis of Animal Welfare


The Brambell Report of 1965 recommended that animals should have the freedom to stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves and stretch their limbs. The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) developed these into the Five Freedoms, which are a framework for the analysis of animal welfare. The Five Freedoms are well known in farming, policy making and academic circles. They form the basis of much animal welfare legislation, codes of recommendations and farm animal welfare accreditation schemes, and are the foundation of the Welfare Quality® assessment scheme. The Five Freedoms are also extensively employed for the education of veterinary and animal welfare science students. Hence they have proven to be of great practical utility. In this paper, the Five Freedoms framework is examined in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions for the analysis of animal welfare. Overall, the Five Freedoms are judged to be individually necessary and jointly sufficient as a framework for the analysis of animal welfare. FAWC has recently criticized the Five Freedoms for concentrating on negative aspects of welfare. However, it is shown here how the satisfaction of the Five Freedoms should lead to good welfare, from the animal’s point of view. The Five Freedoms are formulated as ideals of animal welfare. This has significant advantages that have likely contributed to their impact. However, the ideality of the Five Freedoms means that the framework is without power to determine what a satisfactory level of animal welfare is, in an ethical sense.

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    Chaired by the zoologist Professor Humphrey Hewer.

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    I use the words “simple” and “complex” here to refer to the range of phenomena that the condition covers. Hunger, thirst, pain and fear are terms that refer to well defined physiological processes. In contrast, discomfort, injury, disease, normal behavior and distress do not refer to well defined physiological processes in the same way. For instance, pain is an aversive sensory and emotional experience caused by stimulation of nociceptors. Discomfort is a much more general terms and its referents include physical and thermal discomfort. Injury, disease and normal behaviour are very general or vague terms since an animal can be injured or diseased, or exhibit normal behaviour, in a multitude of ways.

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    See Haynes (2010) for a comprehensive discussion of competing conceptions of animal welfare.

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    A freedom—or a condition denoted by a freedom—that is not necessary should be discarded because, amongst other reasons, regulation based on the Five Freedoms may unnecessarily burden farmers economically.

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    It is possible to define the words in a more technical sense, perhaps selecting from the scientific and philosophical literature. However, the selected definitions could be contested, ultimately leading to disputing the conclusions of this paper. Therefore although standard dictionary definitions are not ideal for all purposes, they are preferable to more technical definitions for the aims of this paper.

  6. 6.

    The Farm Animal Welfare Council, a non-departmental public body, had its status changed to an expert committee on April 1 2011 and is now called the Farm Animal Welfare Committee.

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    This discussion assumes the centrality of consciousness and sentiency in animal welfare. An early argument for animal sentience is found in Brambell (1965 pp. 9–10) and there is now an extensive literature on animal consciousness and sentiency (see for instance Stamp Dawkins 1993; Griffin 2001; Fraser 2008).

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    Here, one can see that pleasure is diminished due to pain, not in a strictly necessary sense because pleasure is the opposite of pain, but rather because of the effects of pain.

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    Also see Nussbaum’s capabilities approach (Nussbaum 2004).

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    A second disadvantage is that if interpreted literally, the five freedoms can be criticised for being over-simplistic in not reflecting how sensations and emotions impact on motivation. For instance, an animal completely free from hunger would not eat, and though it would not suffer from hunger, it would perish of starvation. Similarly, pain has an important adaptive function whereby the individual negatively associates the causative stimulus and learns to avoid it in the future. In this sense the experience of an adaptive intensity and duration of the sensations and emotions contained in the freedoms is necessary for good welfare.


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The author is grateful to Christopher Wathes, Michael Reiss, John Webster and four anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks are also due to the Royal Veterinary College for funding towards this project.

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Correspondence to Steven P. McCulloch.

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McCulloch, S.P. A Critique of FAWC’s Five Freedoms as a Framework for the Analysis of Animal Welfare. J Agric Environ Ethics 26, 959–975 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-012-9434-7

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  • Animal welfare
  • Critical analysis
  • Farm Animal Welfare Council
  • Five freedoms
  • Ideality