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Blog: The Five Freedoms – outdated and simply wrong

I have not heard anyone criticise the Five Freedoms. They are so well known that they have their own Wikipedia page (see below). I don’t want to say they are dumb, but they are simple minded. And, simply, wrong. In this series, I will take them one at a time. And I will offer an alternative to these simplistic rules.

I'm not going to repeat here where they originate and who lead the commission and so on.  You can look that up very easily.  Here is what #1 says:  Freedom from hunger and thirst...with the sub-text of...by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.  Really?

Hunger and thirst are core emotions controlled by the limbic system, gut peptides and blood metabolites.  Hunger goes up, hunger goes down.  Thirst goes up, thirst goes down.  By this statement, if I was in a pig or a chicken or a cow in a holding pen for one minute and a hunger pain came over me, then my welfare would be negative.  Hogwash.  Whether a person or an animal is hungry or thirsty or not is not a measure of welfare.

Let's take that obese person you see on TV that can't get out of bed because he or she is so large.  People bring them food.  They are constantly hungry.  Not too different, actually, than a modern sow or broiler breeder – hungry most of the time.  I have been with obese people who seem not to have an off switch that tells them it is time to not consume more calories.  I am borderline this way myself.

The best thing for an obese human or animal is to be on a diet.  This would violate the first of the Five Freedoms.  A genetically-obese animal or person, to remain healthy and not morbidly obese, would have to be constantly hungry to live a healthy life.

Now let's take a non-obese, normal kind of animal.  Let's say we have two pigs.  One we feed as much as they want once a day.  The other we give them full access to feed.  The one that consumes all it wants in 30 minutes – is that pig suffering 4 hours after its meal and until it eats again the next day?  Of course not.

Hunger and thirst are emotions like sex and aggression.  Must a breeding animal breed to have adequate welfare?  Must a socially-aggressive pig fight to be happy?  Ever see wild or feral pigs?  They sure do fight.  And they hurt each other.  Is this good welfare?  How can you pick two of the 4 core animal emotions and say you can't do that – no hunger and no thirst.  Emotional behaviors elicit a feeling.  Feelings are good, some people believe.  To be hungry is to feel good, especially when you eat.  Water tastes good to me when I am thirsty.  Why deny me that emotion?  Why deny animals the cycle of hunger-eat or thirsty-drink?

In the normal course of a day, hunger and thirst cycle as a feeling or emotion.  What is wrong with that?  When I am on a diet and I am hungry, am I suffering?  I might feel like I am, but in fact, I am looking out for my own health.  To maintain my health and vigor I MUST be hungry at times.  Do you see that the full statement contradicts itself?  It calls for freedom from hunger or thirst AND full health and vigor.  It is simply not possible to have both.  Full health and vigor includes being hungry and not obese.

We humans really do not understand our feelings or emotions.  And we are even further from understanding animal feelings or emotions.  To mandate that we deny animals selected core feelings and emotions is to deny animal biology.  I guarantee that feral swine in the USA are most often hungry – and if we brought them in and fed them well, they would become obese.  Being hungry and thirsty is a part of being an animal.  A normal animal.

One should not take my argument to an extreme.  I am not saying that animals so underfed as to lose body muscle are healthy.  Nor am I saying that animals that are so thirsty that they are dehydrated would be vigorous.  If the Five Freedoms said animals should not lose body mass below some level, nor should they be clinically dehydrated for more than a few hours, I might agree with it.  But that is not what the Five Freedoms say.  This Freedom #1 contradicts itself, is simplistic and wrong.
And there is a better approach.  I will discuss this after I deal with the other four of the Five Freedoms.

See Wikipedia page here - Five Freedoms

One comment

  • L Leslie Ballentine

    I agree with Dr. McGlone when it comes to the Five Freedoms. They miss the mark. More than 20 years ago I collaborated with University of Guelph professor and farm animal welfare pioneer Dr. Frank Hurnik to address the serious short comings with these well intentioned but misdirected principles. We came up with, what I think, is a much more accurate set of animal welfare guidelines. Rather than being 'free from' hunger, or distress, or pain and rather than being 'free to' express their natural behavious (after all not all natural behaviours are in the best interests of the animal) we 'reinvented' the faulty thinking behind these principles to reflect what farm animals should receive:
    *adequate air, water, and feed
    *safe housing and sufficient space
    *appropriate complexity of the environment
    *regular supervision and effective health care
    *sensible handling

    Sadly, even back then the Five Freedoms were too entrenched to change.
    I would simply add that negative experiences such as hunger, or pain can also be in the best interest of an animal. Transporting pigs with a full belly has more harmful outcomes than the discomfort of hunger. Pain can be good. It serves as a deterent for fighting or a signal to sows that they are farrowing. I look forward to reading the rest of this blog series and commend Dr. McGlone for taking it on.

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