Are there differences between human and animal welfare?

The main difference between human and animal welfare is that there is no single agreed definition of human welfare, whereas there is an internationally agreed definition for animal welfare known as the Five Freedoms. There are similarities in what constitutes good welfare for both, but not every element of good human welfare can be applied directly for good animal welfare. 

To start with, how animal welfare is achieved or upheld is not as black and white as some parties would like us to believe. Welfare should always be a matter of science, not emotion. 

Human welfare is more commonly referred to as human well-being and is a broad and contested term, interpreted in many different ways with significant overlap. In general, human welfare refers to the allocation of resources to fit the well-being of humans.  

The United Nations Development Programme classifies and measures human welfare within its human development index as being primarily a matter of education, health and income. It is based on the three social welfare variables of: 1) a long and healthy life; 2) acquisition of knowledge; and 3) having a decent standard of living. Scientific literature suggests that well-being should be treated as a multidimensional phenomenon composed of four primary components—basic human needs, economic needs, environmental needs, and subjective happiness. 

These components are somewhat similar to the internationally recognised principles of animal welfare known as the ‘Five Freedoms’, which lists the primary components as: 1) freedom from hunger and thirst; 2) freedom from discomfort; 3) freedom from pain, injury or disease; 4) freedom to express normal behaviour; 5) freedom from fear and distress. 

And as science is developing in the area of animal welfare, many scientists and academics now talk about the Five Domains of animal welfare, which essentially include these same five components as the freedoms but with a greater focus on the mental state of the animal. 

The mental state of an animal is highly subjective and hard to measure or ever truly understand. Even in human science there are cautions around mixing the objective measurable points with the subjective ones. Diener and Seligman’s (2004) definition of well-being: “Peoples’ positive evaluations of their lives include positive emotion, engagement, satisfaction, and meaning” recognises that well-being incorporates several separable concepts. This raises concerns regarding the tendency of well-being to be conflated with happiness which, according to mainstream understanding, is only one element of well-being. 

So it’s safe to say that there will always be differences between animal welfare and human welfare, but the basics of health and living a decent life are similar in both.