I will admit it upfront: I am missing most of the cold winter this year, as I am traveling through Australia.
Now before you get too offended and complain that I am sunbathing Down Under at the expense of Ohio’s taxpayers, I should add that my Australian trip is in the company of college students, hormone-raging students, 24/7 type students, “can I drown a couple of them” type students… How did I get myself into this predicament? It’s a big, wide world, Toto!
There is no question that the world has shrunk in my lifetime. Destinations that use to take days if not weeks to reach can now be traveled in a day or two — mind you in a very cramped space and possibly without one’s luggage at arrival.
More importantly for our agriculture students at OSU, agricultural goods are now traded all over the world, and it is important for them to have an understanding on how this is done.
The U.S. is a competitive supplier of grains, oilseeds, and animal products to the world markets. So nearly 10 years ago, we realized that if we were to provide full training opportunities to our animal sciences majors, we would have to offer opportunities to go abroad and study how food from animals moved around the globe.
Australia was found to be a highly desirable destination due to its visible presence in the world’s food export market, its common language, plus an outstanding research program in animal welfare at the University of Melbourne.
After eight years of sitting through hours of lectures and experimentation on animal welfare issues I thought that it was time to share some of my thinking in this column.
People who study animal welfare are generally proponents of the “five freedoms.” This doctrine states that to experience good welfare an animal should be free from:
• Injury, disease and pain
• Fear and stress
• Physical discomfort
• Hunger and thirst
• Should be free to express normal behavior
One problem with animals is that, unlike teenagers, they don’t talk back. For ethologists (those who study animal behavior), these five freedoms are self-evident.
I challenge this dogma. If it was so, then the five freedoms should apply to humans as well.
Injury, disease and pain. Football players and other athletes are often exposed to injuries and pain; should we ban football? Human birthing is (I am told) quite painful; should we prohibit human procreation? Breast feeding is frequently accompanied with episodes of mastitis (infection of the mammary gland); should we prohibit mothers from breast feeding?
Fear and stress
Roller coasters induce a very intense fear in most people; should they be banned? And what should we do with scary movies?
If stress is so bad why do 10,000 people fight for the privilege of entering the Boston marathon each year, an activity that by any physiological measurement is highly stressful to the human body?
If physical discomfort is so bad, why do so many humans go on long wilderness hikes? Why do so many people love deer hunting. Sitting half-frozen in a deer stand on a cold November morning is highly uncomfortable, but should it be banned on the basis of human welfare?
Hunger and thirst
Should we let our kids eat anything whenever they are “hungry”? Should we let pregnant sows eat themselves to death?
Should be free to express normal behavior. Beyond the issue of what is “normal” behavior in domestic animals, we routinely force humans to behave contrary to what should be normal.
Reproduction is a normal behavior in humans (most of us do reproduce). Thus, should we let teenagers have a go at it under the premise that it is “normal.” Should we let kids decide whether they should go to school or not? Should we allow dog fights because fighting among dogs is a normal behavior in wild dogs?
The point is that defining what is best for an animal is not as simple as what most people think.
As we will progressively be facing new regulations in Ohio regarding the care of the animals that we are entrusted with, we better be vigilant and not let too many “self-evidences” determine what is best. This is an area where science can assist us by providing much needed facts.