Submitted to: CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/28/2007
Publication Date: 7/8/2007
Citation: Cheng, H. 2007. Animal welfare: Should we change housing to better accommodate the animal or change the animal to accommodate the housing. CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources. http://www.cababstractsplus.org/cabreviews/reviews.asp.
Interpretive Summary: Animal welfare relates to the animals’ ability to cope with their environment. Genes control animals’ behavioral, physiological, immunological, and psychological response to stressors, including environmental stimulations. There is a link between the processes of adaptation and domestication in improving animal welfare through inbreeding and artificial selection. Genetic selection for phenotypic characteristics associated with specific physiological or behavioral displays, including domestic behavior, has become a major tool to improve animal production and welfare. Studies from our group and others have evidenced that animal productivity and welfare can be improved at the same time through genetic selection. Genetic improvements of farm animals, with the discovery of genomic sequences, will speed up breeding programs and has the potential to be used very successfully in selecting animals with high production efficiency and optimal welfare, resulting from resistance to stress, disease or both. Taken together, animal welfare can be improved dramatically through artificial selection if the selection is based on the scientific findings from a multiple-disciplinary approach, which is conducted within the housing condition and environment where the animals are going to be maintained. The hypothesis can be adopted or used by scientists and the breeder industry in developing new strains of farm animals with greater adaptation to the current production system, with an emphasis on improving animal well-being and maintaining economic efficiency.
Technical Abstract: Animal welfare (well-being) can be generally defined as “a state of harmony between the animal and its environment, characterized by optimal physical, behavioral, and psychological functioning, and high quality of the animal’s life”. Since its inception in the early 19th century, through further development during the 20th century, and continuing through today, the animal welfare/well-being movement has had a significant impact globally on monitoring and regulating the practices of the modern livestock production industries. Before the animal welfare movement brings animal agriculture to the next stage, it is necessary to understand the finely tuned balance between animals, especially domestic farm animals, and their environments. It has been known for centuries that some species, strains, and/or individuals of animals adapt better to their environments than others. The outcome of the adaptive process, i.e., increased or decreased in terms of welfare, is dependent on the animals’ biological characteristics (genes), environmental factors, and genetic-environmental interactions. The animal-or-environment dilemma associated with animal welfare has also raised multiple semantic variants among human beings according to a person’s education, ethical viewpoint, socio-economic conditions, culture, religion, and political beliefs.