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UFAW and Animal Welfare

The Importance of Science to Animal Welfare

Playful chimpanzees

Ensuring 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 that many species are sentient - they have the capacity to feel pain and distress, they can suffer and, conversely, be aware of pleasant feelings. But how do we assess, from the animal's point of view, what matters to them and how much?

UFAW promotes and supports science that can 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. Evidence from animal welfare science inform, motivate, and facilitate all aspects of improving animal welfare – through developments in legislation, professional 'best practice' or the actions of other organisations and individuals with whom UFAW collaborates.

In promoting and supporting this scientific approach to improving welfare, UFAW's work is wide-ranging – enlisting the energies of animal keepers, scientists, veterinarians, lawyers, and others who care about 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 shows that this also possibly applies to some invertebrates, such as cephalopods and crustaceans.

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’s 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. They are incorporated into European legislation and have had an enormous international impact in improving the welfare of animals used in research. 

  • 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.