Animal welfare: Time to be considered, considerate

THE link between the very welcome news that there has been a 25% fall in the number of dogs destroyed in Irish pounds in the last year and a cattle feedlot in Broken Bow, Nebraska, one that can accommodate up to 85,000 cattle at any one time, may seem tenuous but the same issue is at the core of both figures: Animal welfare and the code of ethics we apply when dealing with domestic animals — how we treat the inhabitants of this planet that we fawn over or may eventually eat.

As the world’s human population accelerates at a rate that seems unsustainable — up from 3.3bn in 1965 to 7.3bn today — our need to produce more and more affordable food will mean ever more industrialised food production and farming methods.

The swelling middle classes in China, Russia, India and Brazil can only add to that momentum as affluence changes diets.

Unfortunately, there is a growing risk that the principles of animal husbandry that once ensured that animals born and raised to be eaten were treated with at least a modicum respect and dignity may be consigned to the hobby farm or the farm museum.

Ironically, as our need to produce ever greater quantities of beef, pork, mutton, chicken and farmed fish means very changed circumstances for tens of millions of farm animals our relationship with pets, or companion animals as the vernacular describes them, swings in the opposite direction.

We call kittens, pups, nestlings and cubs babies. We sometimes produce pedigree dogs to breed standards that are the very epitome of cruelty.

Occasionally, when they reach the end of their lives we sustain them with the help of a commercially orientated vet more for our own indulgence than their comfort.

We can imagine we are doing the right thing because we cannot face our pet’s mortality, possibly because it warns us of our own.

This new, more extreme relationship with pets means in some instances pet owners take out health insurance for their animals even if they cannot afford similar cover for themselves or their children.

The reference points in this conversation constantly change.

The objectives of Food 2020, a plan designed to increase food and farm production significantly must have implications.

Thousands of acres of habitat have been lost in the last year or two becasue of either official demands around single farm payments or the imagined opportunites offered by the end of the milk quota system.

That great, long- anticipated change will increase the national herd significantly and that growth must at least raise concerns around animal welfare.

Plans for Europe’ s largest fish farm off the Aran Islands will have a negative impact on struggling populations of Atlantic salmon.

We are all part of the dynamic around how we treat animals and maybe we should be more conscious of our actions.

Bringing a pet animal into an unsuitable environment is wrong and our unwavering addiction to red meat may in time be seen in a similar light.

It seems morally appropriate to be more alert, to be more considerate and considered about the animals we take for granted and how we use them.

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