Global Animal Welfare Policy Research Project Update

It is now a year since we launched our ground-breaking international study of public policy regarding the farming of chickens for meat (they are known as ‘broilers’). By examining and comparing the policy process in four different countries (Australia, UK, Aotearoa-New Zealand and the Netherlands) we aim to figure out what factors help and hinder better animal welfare protection.

Many more chickens are killed for the meat industry (e.g. almost 1 billion just in the UK) than all other types of animal put together. So looking into this field of animal use is hugely significant to the cause of animal protection.

Our research team, Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan, Dr Peter Chen and Dr Sue Pyke have been making fantastic progress with interviewing relevant experts from all perspectives in each country, and have already presented two papers at academic conferences on the preliminary results of their research.

Title slide of 1st paper

The first paper, titled ‘Talking (at cross purposes) about ‘meat chicken’ welfare’, reported on the initial findings from the Australian interviews. It reveals some startling differences in views on the welfare of chickens:

  • Animal Advocate – ‘If I was going to be born a farm animal, I think chickens would be the last one I want to be born as.
  • Industry Association Vet and Manager – ‘It’s to a point now where I believe the welfare of the chickens is quite satisfactory.

The second paper, ‘The Third Sector and Animal Welfare Policy in the UK and Australia’, presents some of the preliminary comparative analysis. One fascinating contrast is that while in the UK there is a heavy (private) regulatory reliance on the ‘Red Tractor’ industry assurance scheme, in Australia there is a similar non-governmental reliance on a certification scheme run by an animal welfare group, RSPCA Australia.

Dr O’Sullivan explains:

‘These slides form part of the research team’s work-in-progress. We have presented at two international academic conferences to date, one focused on animal studies and one oriented to public policy. Those presentations form part of our work to refine the research, moving us towards peer-reviewed publication. We expect to see changes in our findings as we fold in data from Aotearoa-New Zealand and the Netherlands. Please keep an eye out for updates related to progress in our thinking and conclusions, as more data and analysis becomes available’.

The project is scheduled to last a total of two years, and is co-funded by the CASJ and RSPCA Australia.

CASJ embarks on international animal protection research

The CASJ is teaming up with RSPCA Australia to initiate a ground-breaking international study that aims to understand which social, political and economic factors help or hinder animal protection.  The two year project will compare public policy and regulation concerning the commercial production of chickens for meat (‘broiler chickens’) in four countries – the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

A major reason why this sector has been chosen as our case study is because it is likely to represent the area where greatest harm to animals occurs. Just in the UK, around a billion chickens are raised and killed for meat each year, mostly in highly intensive systems using fast-growing breeds and overcrowded housing conditions. Around 30% of these animals develop heart and lung problems, and about half suffer severe walking difficulties.

Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan, University of New South Wales and Dr Sue Pyke, University of Melbourne

Given the tendency of animal welfare regulation to give inadequate protection for animals relative to that demanded by public opinion, this research project will examine to what extent this is the case and the factors that either promote or frustrate democratic accountability. We will also seek to understand how animal protection organisations are impacting on regulation and the reasons for their successes and failures.

Dr Peter Chen, University of Sydney

The research will be led by internationally-renowned animal policy scholars Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan from the University of New South Wales, Dr Peter Chen from the University of Sydney and the CASJ’s Dr Dan Lyons, with research assistance from Dr Sue Pyke at the University of Melbourne.

Understanding the public debate on fox hunting

We are pleased to announce that Dr Lucy Parry, who has been carrying out academic research into animal protection funded by the CASJ, has had another paper based on those investigations published in a peer-reviewed journal, British Politics. Lucy’s research looked into the public debates on fox hunting, using a technique called ‘Q methodology’ to analyse the different viewpoints on the matter, and then comparing the quality and content of Parliamentary debates on the topic.

Lucy finds that the debate in the ‘public’ sphere – in civil society amongst the public and NGOs – has focussed significantly on the issue of animals and their ethical and political status. However, in contrast, the debate in the ‘political’ sphere – i.e. Parliament and mainstream media – has been characterised by simplistic and exaggerated positions that distort and marginalise the really important issues relevant to hunting, particularly animal protection.

Lucy’s analysis raises a number of important concerns that point to important new research paths. For example, is the relative exclusion of animal welfare from political debates about hunting symptomatic of a wider inability or unwillingness of the British state to consider animals seriously?

Proposed UK Government Commission to tackle Domestic Abuse offers lessons for reducing animal harm

One of the key measures in the new Domestic Abuse Bill being laid before Parliament is the establishment, on a statutory footing, of an ‘Independent Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’. The intended task of the Office is to lead government policy on preventing domestic abuse, including the publication of reports to hold Government to account for its impact in this field. A ‘Designate’ Domestic Abuse Commissioner was appointed in September 2019, pending the assent of legislation to formally establish the body. Importantly, the government has appointed a Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, who has the necessary commitment and experience having worked for anti-domestic abuse charities.

This proposal indicates the government’s belief that it is necessary and desirable to establish a specific body dedicated to driving improvements in tackling domestic abuse. This ‘institutionalises’ this goal within the government machine, and therefore makes it more likely that the government will actually succeed in tackling this evil.

Meanwhile, in the field of animal protection policy, since our creation in 2011 the Centre for Animals and Social Justice has been calling for a similar type of body – an ‘Animal Protection Commission’ – to establish animal protection as a government priority and therefore lead improvements in preventing animal harm. Although this critical proposal has gained support from most of the UK animal protection movement and some political parties, it has met with strong resistance from within government. It is also important to bear in mind that the idea of an APC predates the election of the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Government in 2010, and thus general indifference towards animal harm can be found across the political spectrum and, indeed, is a deeply institutionalised feature of the British state.

This raises the question: why has government accepted the logic of an independent anti-domestic abuse body, but not for a similar body to reduce animal harm? One of the biggest factors behind this situation is that, unlike domestic abuse, many forms of deliberate animal harm – e.g. farming systems such as intensive broiler production – are legalised, supported by government, and perpetrated by powerful economic interests who dominate government policy-making. This means that animal harm is not seen straightforwardly as a ‘problem’ by government, and so they do not perceive the need for any systematic ‘solution’, such as an APC.

However, this indifference to animal suffering isn’t just found where there are powerful countervailing interests. The UK has some of the feeblest anti-cruelty legislation in the world, with a maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty offences under the Animal Welfare Act of just six months. A growing backlash against gratuitous animal abusers getting away with their crimes has finally led to government proposals to increase maximum sentences to 5 years, but this long-overdue improvement remains on the drawing board. The lack of any voice to represent animals within the government machine is a key reason for the historic failure to make the punishment fit the crime in this field.

The appointment of the Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner shows that government understands the basic principle that if a policy goal is important, it should be reflected in the institutional architecture of the state. In other words those values need to be properly represented in government. It gives some hope that government might learn the lesson that the same applies in the field of animal protection.

Deliberating Animal Experiments

This article by Professor Rob Garner, from his CASJ-funded research, is an account of the work of the Boyd Group, an informal grouping of stakeholders on both sides of the debate about animal experimentation formed in Britain in the early 1990s. Published in the Global Journal of Animal Law, it is an explorative case study which aims to map the opinion-forming processes of the participants of the Boyd Group, many of whom were interviewed by the author, in light of deliberative theory and with the intention of generating suggestions for improved democratic practices in relation to animal welfare issues, and more broadly where representative bodies split by seemingly intractable moral differences.

Not only is animal experimentation a policy issue involving acute moral conflict, but the Boyd Group is also a body made up of partisans representing organisations on both sides of the debate. Not surprisingly, the transformation of views predicted by some deliberative theorists has not occurred. However, deliberation within the Boyd Group has had the effect of softening some of the views and attitudes of the participants, has facilitated some compromises and provides a useful guide to the methods available to those wishing to manage moral conflict.

Re-enchanting the farm: Learning lessons from the past about human-animal relationships

Leading animal studies scholar Professor Erica Fudge (pictured below) has written an exclusive article for the Centre about how the social history of farmer/animal relationships affects and illuminates contemporary debates about intensive animal farming.

Professor Fudge, from the School of Humanities at the University of Strathclyde, examines extensive small-scale farming before the industrial revolution, a world which soon vanished as farming became more mechanised and commercial. Studying the wills of 17th Century Essex husbandmen, she finds that farm animals such as cows and sheep were perceived as more than objects or purely financial value. For example, the common practice of bequeathing lambs by deceased god parents to their godchildren was about passing on religious lessons about care and responsibility, rather than a mere material legacy.

Of course, we cannot simply recreate the conditions of pre-industrial animal farming. But the notion that animals matter more than just as economic units is reflected in modern thinking of them as not just sentient in the sense of experiencing pain but as individuals who benefit from the opportunity to exercise choice or agency over how they live. In other words, we should recognise animals – socially and politically – as beings with their own complex experience of, and emotional responses to, their world.

New report analyses fox hunting debate

Our CASJ-funded PhD researcher Dr Lucy Parry has successfully completed her project at the University of Sheffield investigating the political battle over fox hunting and has had her work published in eminent academic journals and conferences.

Obviously, the whole point of our research is that it leads to better protection for animals. So on 10 May 2017 we organised a symposium in London attended by Britain’s leading animal protection organisations where Lucy presented her critical research findings (below).

We have published a report entitled Analysing the Foxhunting Debate: Implications for Animal Protection which summarises Lucy’s PhD thesis for a non-academic audience. This publication helps to fulfil our Centre’s mission to communicate its research findings to the public, animal protection NGOs and government policy-makers in order to increase understanding of the social and political factors that have a decisive impact on the progress of animal protection.

Dr Parry explains that despite the enactment of the Hunting Act over a decade ago, fox hunting remains arguably the most controversial animal issue in British politics. The debate over fox hunting is highly politicised and contentious, as indicated by the prominence of the topic in the current General Election campaign. In the past few years there has been growing interest in the political aspects of animal ethics, with an increasing number of academics offering theoretical approaches rooted in politics and philosophy to enhance animal protection (see Garner and O’Sullivan 2016).

Dr Parry’s research takes up this challenge; she argues that deliberative democracy has the potential to improve animal protection. Deliberative democracy is a prominent strand of political theory that argues for a ‘talk-centric’ approach to democracy. It puts deliberation, a specific type of communication, at the heart of democratic decision-making. Deliberative democracy is known for helping to achieve environmental goals and Dr Parry argues that it could also enhance animal protection.

The report is a summary of the thesis, highlighting the key findings for animal protection. She uses deliberative democracy as a lens through which to evaluate the fox hunting debate. She first identifies four different viewpoints on hunting in the public sphere, and examine how animals are represented within these narratives. She then follows these four viewpoints into Westminster and examines the parliamentary fox hunting debate. Dr Parry finds that despite considerable entrenchment and hostility, moments of reflection and geniality can be found in the hunting debate. However, her analysis of Westminster reveals the distortive influence of party politics and the intractability of the hunting debate. This undermines the potential for meaningful deliberation and animal protection.

Her research suggests a key role for animal protection organisations in holding the government to account for animal protection decisions. Animal protection organisations should adopt a more deliberative approach, but currently the British political system is a significant barrier to this. If we want substantive, feasible policies to support animal protection in Britain, we must pay attention to the political system we are dealing with, as well as individual animal issues.

Dr Parry’s last point identifies the historic gap in animal protection research and advocacy that the CASJ’s unique work is focussed on. Dr Parry’s research was part-funded by the CASJ in conjunction with the University of Sheffield. We are grateful to the University of Sheffield’s Department of Politics and her supervisors, Dr Alasdair Cochrane & Dr Hayley Stevenson for their invaluable help and support.

CASJ PhD Student Lucy Parry gains Doctorate


We are delighted to announce that our PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, Lucy Parry, has now successfully submitted her thesis and passed her oral exam (‘viva’) to gain her doctorate in animal protection politics. The CASJ is delighted to have supported the advancement of knowledge to help animals. We’d like to thank the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield and her supervisors Dr Alasdair Cochrane and Dr Hayley Stevenson. Here, Lucy, who has now established herself as Britain’s leading expert on the foxhunting debate and has already published in peer-reviewed outlets, summarises her findings:

My thesis is a deliberative systems analysis of the foxhunting debate. I analyse the debate from the perspective of deliberative democracy; it is systemic because I identify and analyse the debate in different communicative settings – public space (i.e. open and accessible settings involving members of the public, activists and the media), Parliament, and in-between sites such as newspapers and campaign organisations. I assess how and where different viewpoints on hunting ‘travel’ through different settings. To do this, I conducted an in-depth study into discourses on hunting with actors in the public sphere. I then analysed debates in Westminster to see which viewpoints were present, and if they had changed. I also evaluate the hunting debate from a deliberative democratic perspective, i.e. how deliberative is the hunting debate? This was driven by my argument that deliberative democracy has the potential to enhance animal protection.

Deliberative democracy places collective reasoning at the heart of decision-making. Ideally, it encompasses reasoned argument, consideration of alternative views, mutual respect and reflexivity – the ability to reflect on your own preferences and sometimes, change them. Below I outline my key findings for animal protection.

The hunting debate
I conducted an in-depth study to identify narratives on hunting. A wide range of people took part including animal protection organisations, former activists, hunters and hunting advocates. The four viewpoints identified are:

1. Liberal-progressive: objects to hunting on the basis that it is cruel and serves no practical purpose. A further objection is that hunting is outdated and that modern British society has moved beyond that type of activity. It employs the animal welfare ethic where animal use is justified by necessity and if carried out humanely. It upholds that debates around hunting should be open and diverse. Anyone can have an opinion on hunting and can bring something to the discussion.

2. Countryside management: argues that hunting is a form of wildlife management and pest control. The British countryside is a man-made environment and needs to be actively managed. Makes a distinction between wild and domesticated animals and argues that they should be treated differently. It values an open debate on hunting, but at the time believes that those opposed to hunting just don’t understand it.

3. Sporting libertarian: argues that hunting is not an effective way of controlling foxes. But it is a legitimate sport and should be allowed to continue. There is definitely a place for hunting in today’s society and just because people don’t like it, that’s not a reason to stop. This position hates perceived inconsistency in others’ views – like if people oppose foxhunting but they still eat meat.

4. Critical-radical: against hunting for the same reasons as the first position, but with a stronger inclination towards giving animals the same moral consideration as humans. Puts forward a political argument about the class structure and why hunting continues to be such a contentious issue. Closer to an animal rights view but does not explicitly endorse it. Critical of the farming industry and considers power relations to be an important aspect of the hunting debate.

This study shows that the hunting debate is more complex than just pro and anti. Most importantly, it suggests that animal welfare and animal rights are closely aligned and have more in common than not; the two viewpoints are 76% correlated.

This goes against efforts in parts of the mainstream media to divide the animal protection movement into two. Recently, media reports have lambasted organisations like the RSPCA who have been ‘accused of becoming too focused on animals rights rather than animal welfare, its traditional role’ ( 2016). However, the majority of my research participants aligned with both liberal-progressive and the critical-radical viewpoints. This serves as a unifying boost to the movement and a response to those who deliberately seek to divide and conquer animal protection.

In Westminster
I tracked these four discourses into debates in Parliament. Whilst the first two positions are quite well represented in Westminster, the latter two discourses are distorted and much weaker. In particular, the critical-radical discourse is presented as an attack on the ‘Tory toff’. But this caricature is not part of the original viewpoint; there is a critique of the class structure but it does not rely on the ‘Tory toff’ stereotype. The distortion of this discourse makes it vulnerable to attack and risks alienating MPs and the public who are against hunting. The distortion of the critical-radical viewpoint is worrying for animal protection; it is the most radical and counter-hegemonic position yet is reduced to a bit of a joke in the corridors of power.

I also analysed three different cases to see how messages are transmitted from public to power, and vice versa. Of particular interest is the Blue Fox group (Conservatives Against Fox Hunting). Unlike so many of the protagonists, this group fosters a constructive and supportive atmosphere, aiming to grow the number of anti-hunting Tory MPs. Its approach is respectful and seeks to persuade, rather than further entrench disagreement. It is a rare example of a more deliberative approach in the hunting debate. Most importantly, the group has also been pretty successful in increasing the number of anti-hunting Tories in recent years. This suggests that a more deliberative approach could be favourable when trying to persuade MPs.

Blue Fox is a unique case, founded by local Conservative members and working within the party with existing MPs. It is a lot harder for an external organisation to gain traction in the same way. Therefore, whilst a more deliberative approach can in theory enhance animal protection, the Westminster system undermines both deliberative democracy and animal protection at the moment. The dominance of adversarial party political and the concentration of power in the executive mean that meaningful, respectful and constructive dialogue around hunting is unlikely.

Nonetheless, my research still shows that a more deliberative approach to animal protection could yield valuable results. Previous studies have shown that those in animal use industries may be more open to persuasion by rational argument (Brown and Quinn-Allan 2015). Another study found that animal activists are more susceptible to visceral responses like disgust or horror (Herzog and Golden 2009). This suggests that tactics such as graphic imagery or emotional shocks are useful in cementing animal protectionists’ conviction, but less useful in seeking to persuade others. We need to consider what animal protectionists’ aims are: are they trying to build their support base, appealing to those who already agree? Or are they trying to persuade government or industry to change their ways? Animal protectionists need to be aware of this in how they proceed. That the most radical discourse on hunting is poorly represented in parliament suggests that there is much work to be done to articulate a stronger animal protection position.

Brown, A. & Quinn-Allan, D. (2015) ‘Bridging empathy and protective indifference? Animal welfare, online engagement, and the activist-slacktivist divide’, In the Australasian Animal Studies Association. Animal Publics: Emotions, Empathy, Activist, University of Melbourne, 12-15 July 2015, Unpublished.

Herzog, H. A., & Golden, L. L. (2009) ‘Moral emotions and social activism: the case of animal rights’, Journal of Social Issues, vol. 65, pp. 485-498. (2016) ‘RSPCA boss says sorry for blunders and admits charity was too political’, [online], available at:

What does Brexit mean for the future of animal protection?

Most UK animal welfare legislation is based on EU rules formulated with UK involvement, so Brexit has the potential to affect animal protection levels in the UK (and across the remainder of the EU). Before the EU referendum, the CASJ explained that the impact of Brexit will depend on the UK government’s appetite for listening to the public and valuing animal protection versus promoting profit-maximisation, international trade and deregulation.

So now, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, what do the prospects for animal protection look like?

First of all, the Vote Leave campaign didn’t respond to our query regarding their animal protection intentions. This doesn’t inspire confidence, though we should point out that the official Remain campaign didn’t bother to reply either. In fact, this lack of interest from both designated campaigns is another revealing clue to the broad disregard for animal protection across the British political establishment.

It’s actually hard to make very confident predictions because of the Brexit camp’s lack of clarity over the UK’s future status. But, as this blog by environmental experts indicates, there seems to be two broad options for the UK government if it does actually go through with Brexit:

  • The ‘Norwegian’ Option: It reaches an agreement with the EU to stay in the single market as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), similar to Iceland or Norway. In this scenario, the UK would still be subject to most EU laws affecting animal welfare. But we would have much less influence over the content of those laws. Overall, and other things being equal, this scenario would probably not make a huge difference to the evolution of animal welfare standards compared with staying in the EU.
  • The ‘Free Trade’ Option: It has a looser future relationship with the EU outside the EEA. We may end up being more open to imports of animal products from countries with very low welfare standards such as China and the USA (through TTIP, for example), making it a challenge to maintain our current standards, which are poor in the first place.

So how will the UK government balance animal welfare and business interests in the future? The big picture does not give grounds for much optimism. Regardless of which party has been in power, the British state has a long tradition of strongly backing profiteering over compassion. More animals have suffered more intensely in factory farms and research labs as successive governments have implemented EU laws as feebly as possible. Behind closed doors, industry and civil servants have worked together to weaken animal welfare protection, and elected politicians of all stripes have lacked the backbone to stand up to them. With the leading Brexit advocates calling for even more deregulation, power may shift further against animal protection.

On the other hand, a more positive indication was given by Agriculture Minister George Eustice in an article in The Times before the vote. He argued that by leaving the EU, the UK Government could replace existing EU grants to farmers (known as the Common Agricultural Policy – CAP) with new subsidies for higher welfare systems in British farming and so stop them being undercut by foreign farms operating to weaker standards.

For example, Mr Eustice claimed that pig farmers would be in a position to receive new grants to support the extra cost of raising their animals in better conditions that mean they don’t have to have their tails docked to prevent stress-related tail-biting. As a result, the products from those animals could be sold cheaply enough to compete with pork etc. raised in more intensive systems, thereby making higher welfare standards in the UK economically viable.

Some commentators have also suggested that EU rules prevent the UK from banning the live export of farm animals or the importation of some products that are no longer produced in the UK for ethical animal welfare reasons, such as fur. But the RSPCA has argued that if/when the UK leaves the EU it would still be a challenge to ban live exports and fur products because of the need to:

  • adhere to EU rules to be able to carry trading with the EU
  • and/or adhere to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules

Once again, whether the UK government takes any opportunities to increase animal welfare will depend on its commitment to the cause relative to its preference for economic growth. Sadly, the UK government has recently opposed proposals from Germany, Netherlands and Denmark to tighten EU rules on live export for the sake of animal welfare. In many respects, the UK has been a drag on improving animal welfare across the EU, rather than the other way around.

So unless there is a fairly radical change of approach from the UK government, the omens are not good.

This is why our pioneering proposal for a new Government Animal Protection Commission is, if anything, more urgent than ever. That’s because this would entrench animal protection in our system of government for the first time, giving animals more of a level-playing field in the battle against the state’s deep obsession with money and profit above everything else.