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UFAW and Animal Welfare

The Importance of Science to Animal Welfare

Playful chimpanzeesEnsuring good welfare is about more than ensuring good health. Animal welfare is about the quality of animals' lives: their feelings. It is now widely agreed, although it was not always so, that many species are sentient - they have the capacity to feel pain and distress, they can suffer and, conversely, be aware of pleasant feelings - and that this matters morally. But how do we assess, from the animal's point of view, what matters to them and how much?

“Science informs, motivates and facilitates advances in animal welfare by providing a strong evidence base for changing attitudes and practices, and by creating practical and effective solutions to welfare problems.”

UFAW promotes and supports a scientific approach aimed at finding ways to gain insight into what matters to animals, assessing their welfare and improving the quality of their lives through practical developments in all aspects of their care.

Change for the better depends on knowledge, understanding and practical solutions. UFAW believes that good science can inform, motivate and facilitate that change - whether through developments in legislation, professional 'best practice' or the actions of other organisations and individuals.

In promoting and supporting this scientific approach to improving welfare, UFAW's work is wide-ranging and undertaken with many other organisations and individuals - enlisting and informing the energies of animal keepers, scientists, veterinarians, lawyers and others who care about animals.

Find out how you can support this work and improve the lives of animals

Animal Sentience and the 'Five Freedoms'

It is now widely accepted that all vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) are sentient - that they have the capacity to feel pain, to experience distress and suffering, to experience both positive and negative feelings. Scientific evidence is that this also possibly applies to some invertebrates, such as cephalopods and crustaceans.

UFAW believes that where there is any doubt the animal should be given the benefit of the doubt and treated as if it were sentient - and that, from an ethical point of view, it is essential that we take these feelings into account in all our dealings with them. (There are other, perfectly valid and important reasons for promoting the well-being of non-sentient creatures, for example ecological and aesthetic).

For all sentient animals, UFAW supports the principles of the 'Five Freedoms':

  •  Freedom from hunger and thirst - by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour;
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease - by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;
  • Freedom from discomfort - by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;
  • Freedom from fear and distress - by providing conditions and care which avoid mental suffering;
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.

UFAW's scientific work aims to give practical meaning to these principles from the animal's point of view, and show how they can be effectively implemented through new developments in all aspects of animal care.

Animals in Research - The Three Rs

UFAW employment of Professor William Russell and Rex Burch as UFAW Scholars in the 1950s led directly to the development of the 3Rs principles. These principles are now accepted world-wide as the fundamental ethical framework within which research using animals should be conducted, are now incorporated into European legislation and have had an enormous international impact in improving the welfare of these animals.             

  • Replacement - the use of non-animal subjects wherever possible, and the research, development and validation of new non-animal research and testing models;
  • Reduction - where replacement is not currently possible, the minimising of the number of animals used by, for example, better research design, appropriate statistical methods and use of information databases;
  • Refinement - improvement of experimental procedures and aspects of housing and husbandry so as to minimise risks to welfare.

For more information See The Welfare of Animals Used in Research: Practice and Ethics Chapter 6

A good deal of UFAW’s work, including with the Hume Animal Welfare Research Fellowship, the Animal Welfare Research Training Scholarship and other research grants, the UFAW 3Rs Liaison Group (formerly PHHSC), and participation in a number of working groups, is focused in areas directly related to promoting the Three Rs.

2005 marked the 50th anniversary of the initiation of a UFAW project by William Russell and Rex Burch which led to the publication in 1959 of The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique (reprinted in 1992). This introduced the Three Rs concept of Replacement, Reduction and Refinement which has been adopted as a guiding principle for the welfare of research animals worldwide.

A special edition of UFAW’s Animal Welfare journal devoted to the Three Rs, and including an article by Professor Russell entitled The Three Rs: past, present and future, has been published. For details click here.