To keep animal welfare on the political and societal agenda, there needs to be a change in the way we present the argument, a leading international animal ethicist says.
Oxford University's Marian Stamp Dawkins made the claim during the public lecture "Is more efficient food production in conflict with animal welfare?" at UWA this month as part of 2050 Food, a series of three lectures targeting key issues likely to shape the nature of human food.
Professor Dawkins says to make sure animal welfare stays on the agenda, we need to focus on the argument that animals provide a service to humans rather than that animals are conscious, intelligent beings.
"The problem for us is that we do not understand our own human consciousness," Prof Dawkins says.
She also says many other cultures do not share the Western view of animals.
"To convince the unconvinced we need to stress the service value of animal welfare," she says.
"Animals matter because they are useful to us."
Using this argument could lead to a reduction in new human diseases, reduce the environmental impact and also allow food producers to make a living, Prof Dawkins says.
"Seventy-five per cent of new human diseases over the last 10 years have originated from animals or animal products," she says.
Prof Dawkins says providing good welfare simply means the animal is healthy and has what it wants.
To argue her point, Prof Dawkins used a study she did at a commercial duck farm in the UK, that did not have access to a pond and whose only water was supplied via a nipple.
"Many ducks at commercial farms are kept without bathing water," she says.
"The argument from producers was that if they gave ducks ponds they would get in and dirty the water straight away.
"We asked two questions—do they want it and do they need it?"
Working with the commercial duck farmer, Prof Dawkins gave groups of ducks a choice between a shower, pond or trough or nipple (for drinking water).
"They loved the showers," she says.
"They spent much more of their time under the showers. The nipples they spent very little time with. They clearly want water that they can splash over."
Importantly, she found the ducks with access to showers had better overall health including eyes and feathers than those denied water.
She says it was important to realise food producers may be willing to improve the welfare of the animals they breed for human consumption, but are constrained by costs.
Explore further: Danish museum discovers unique gift from Charles Darwin