Animal welfare as a quality attribute

Importance of extrinsic quality requirements

When shopping, consumers are, first of all, concerned that food is hygienically safe and free of harmful substances. These intrinsic properties can be checked directly with the product, e.g. by laboratory testing. Despite occasionally occurring non-conformities and food scandals, in general, food management systems, product standards and controls ensure the necessary food safety and product quality.

In industrialized countries, extrinsic quality attributes play an increasing role in the food trade. These attributes relate to the production process along an entire value chain. Today, consumers want to know where, how and by whom a product has been produced, and they attach importance to the fact that the conditions of production must be humane, fair and ecologically sustainable. In the case of food of animal origin, consumers and retailers are increasingly demanding that animal welfare requirements are taken into account from “farm to fork”.

Five freedoms of animal welfare

The concept of animal welfare is in line with the idea that animals – including farm animals – are sentient beings who have a right to be kept in a manner appropriate to their species. As early as the 1960s, criticism of animal husbandry evolved in the United Kingdom, to which the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) responded by defining five freedoms:[1]

  1. freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst,
  2. freedom from fear and distress,
  3. freedom from heat stress or physical discomfort,
  4. freedom from pain, injury and disease, and
  5. freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

Professional groups, including veterinarians, have adopted these five freedoms. Organizations such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), have lobbied for the introduction of animal welfare legislation in many countries.

Typically, legislators set only minimum standards for the keeping of animals. At the same time, there is an increasing number of private initiatives aimed at animal welfare. These include label programmes run by organic standardization bodies, animal welfare organizations, farming organizations, the processing industry and retail chains. The activities of this variety of initiatives can be grouped into the following six fields of action:[2]

  1. improving advisory services and stock management
  2. proposed concepts for recording animal welfare indicators and breeding characteristics,
  3. reducing the use of medicines and improving feeding,
  4. improving animal welfare and the health and hygiene of holdings,
  5. preventing the killing of foetuses, young and healthy animals other than for slaughter and improving stunning (anaesthesia) and the slaughter process; and
  6. not to perform any procedures on the animal that are associated with pain and stress.

Animal welfare and sustainability

Although the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do not explicitly mention animal welfare, it is taken into account when considering human-animal-environment interactions. In line with the One-Health approach, the focus is on reducing the use of antibiotics and avoiding the development of resistance in livestock farming. Preventive measures to maintain health are beneficial to animal welfare. Animal welfare measures are often combined with other measures to improve resource efficiency or reduce environmental pollution. Continuous improvement and further development of animal welfare initiatives can only succeed if sustainability indicators can be identified and measured for the entire value chain. Besides, those responsible for quality management are increasingly using the opportunities offered by digitization. The promoters hope that system innovations will have positive ecological and economic effects and trigger change in business, innovative behaviour and production along the animal product value chain.[2]

Animal welfare in developing countries

The requirements of animal welfare first arose in the industrialized countries, especially since the intensive livestock industry there has long had to deal with criticism from animal welfare activists. Developing countries could perceive animal welfare requirements as additional trade barriers [3], which is particularly true if local production of animal origin does not receive appropriate livestock extension services.

At the same time, the understanding of animal welfare differs in different religions and cultures. Just thinking of the ban on killing cows in Hinduism or the ban on the consumption of pork by Muslims. Faith-based slaughter practices, according to Halal and Kosher standards, are partly contradictory to animal welfare objectives.[4]

However, there are indications that animal welfare standards are becoming increasingly widespread in developing countries. Here, too, there are general ethical reasons for avoiding the unnecessary suffering of animals. The promotion of animal welfare should also be of economic interest, as this reduces financial losses and allows access to markets with high animal welfare requirements. Ultimately, however, there is a need for greater involvement of developing countries in the design and adaptation of international animal welfare standards and accompanying support from international development cooperation, which has so far been little involved in promoting animal welfare.[5] To change this, a holistic understanding of the importance of human-animal-environment interactions for sustainable development is essential.


[1] Farm Animal Welfare Council (2009). Farm Animal Welfare in Great Britain: Past, Present and Future, London 

[2] Gothe, Christiane/ Petersen, Brigitte (2018). Qualitätsmerkmal Tierwohl (Animal welfare as a quality attribute), International Center for Food Chain and Network Research, Bonn,

[3] Asebe, Getahun/ Gelayenew, Bizelew/ Kumar Ashwani (2016). The General Status of Animal Welfare in Developing Countries: The Case of Ethiopia, Journal of Veterinary Science & Technology, 7:3

[4] Barrasso, R., Bonerba, E., Ceci, E., Roma, R., Alò, A., Mottola, A., Marchetti, P., Celano, G. V., & Bozzo, G. (2020). Evaluation of the animal welfare during religious slaughtering. In: Italian journal of food safety, 9(1), 8387.

[5] World Animal Net (2015). Animal Welfare and Development: Potential Roles and Responsibilities of Multilateral Development Organisations, Financial Institutions and Governments

Feature photo by by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash

This entry was posted in Quality, Quality Infrastructure, Sustainability and tagged , , , , , , , , , , by Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke

Dr Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke is a global expert in the field of international economic development cooperation. With more than 25 years of consulting experience, he is active in all phases of a project and program development (preparation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation) and collaborates with various implementing organizations and development banks (German Development Cooperation - GIZ and PTB -, Inter-American Development Bank, European Union and United Nations). He has consulting experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr.Harmes-Liedtke is an experienced trainer and process consultant. He works with groups and teams to reflect on their situation and to then formulate change projects to improve their reality. He enables dialogue, facilitates and designs workshops, processes, and sense-making processes. He is certified in facilitation, mediation, and communication techniques which allow him to deal with sensitive, diverse, and even conflict situations. He supports systemic economic development in various roles: • As an expert and trainer in international trade, national quality policies, industrial policy, clusters, and global value chains • As a process consultant in designing and leading diagnostic processes that result in change, adaptation, and improvement • As a facilitator of dialogue, workshops, training, and sense-making processes • As a transdisciplinary researcher in the field of systemic economic development Born 1965, Ph.D. in political science and economics (Bremen 1999), MA in economics (Diplom-Volkswirt) (Hamburg 1991). German nationality.

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