New Research Connects Christianity and Farmed Animal Welfare

We’re now two years into a research project that will provide a new basis for Christian engagement with farm animal welfare. Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare (CEFAW) is a three-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council investigating the implications of Christian faith for how animals are farmed in the UK. The project research team brings academic expertise in Christian theology and ethics together with an expert in the veterinary science of farmed animal welfare. The project is unique, not just in taking a Christian perspective on farmed animal welfare, but also in working in partnership with major UK churches (Church of England, Church of Scotland, Church in Wales, Methodist Church, Roman Catholic Church, United Reformed Church) and seven other organizations, including Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) and Catholic Concern for Animals (CCA).

CEFAW has two core aims: to produce the first academic book exploring the ethics of farm animal welfare in a Christian context, and to produce a Policy Framework that churches and other Christian organizations can use to develop their policy and practice. Having churches and other partner organizations involved from the beginning has helped ensure the academic research has been shaped throughout by the questions that are of concern to churches. A consistent theme from the churches in the first 18 months of the project has been the importance of recognizing the very difficult position of UK animal farmers struggling with changing consumer attitudes, climate change policy, Brexit, potential post-Brexit trade deals, and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visits to see how animals are being farmed in the UK have been a crucial part of the project. Members of the Research Team together with representatives of partner organizations have had the chance to discuss farmed animal welfare in the context of first-hand experience of how animals are being raised. Site visits have included a wide range of species and different welfare levels. The contrast between seeing pigs raised intensively in crowded indoor sheds and outdoors according to organic standards was particularly striking.

The project has responded to a public enquiry on the gene-editing of farmed animals, a Defra consultation on national food strategy, and most recently has worked with CiWF and CCA on a briefing on farm animal welfare issues in the Agriculture Bill that was circulated to bishops and other peers in advance of the Bill’s Second Reading in the House of Lords. A project blog also made the case against the intensification of animal agriculture in response to the climate crisis.

We’ve just completed a six-month consultation on our Policy Framework and are making revisions in advance of publishing it in the autumn. The Framework sets out why farmed animal welfare should be a concern for Christians, proposes a Christian approach to farmed animal welfare based on the flourishing of humans and farmed animals, assesses the extent to which current UK farming systems enable the flourishing of farmed animals, and states conclusions and recommendations for the practice of churches and other Christian organizations, farmers, food retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers, Christian investors, and policymakers. We’ll be holding webinars to discuss key elements of the Framework, and workshops to help members of churches and other organizations consider how they could use the Framework to inform new policy and practice. If you’d like to be kept in touch with these and other upcoming project events, do let us know.

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