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What’s the Difference Between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare?



As an animal welfare organization, we break down what that means and why we choose animal welfare over animal rights.

People often ask why World Animal Protection is not a vegetarian or vegan organization. The answer is simple: We are committed to meeting people where they are, and that means accepting that removing animal products from everyone’s diet isn’t a realistic request. This sets us apart from many of our peers in the animal nonprofit space. Some organizations support animal rights, while others, including us, support animal welfare. Here’s the difference between animal welfare and animal rights, and why we support animal welfare. 

Animal welfare refers to an animal’s quality of life and how well an animal is coping with their environment. This approach is rooted in science and makes judgements based on observable facts about animal suffering. Animal welfare organizations fight for animals to have positive physical and social experiences in their lives. The success or failure of animal welfare used to be measured by five freedoms, but has recently been reworked to be five domains

  1. Nutrition 
  2. Environment 
  3. Health 
  4. Behavior 
  5. Mental state 

Using these five measurement tools, animal welfare advocates can measure an animal’s quality of life. As you can imagine, a factory farm does poorly when measured by these standards, whereas a high-welfare farm that allows animals to roam freely does better. 

Animal rights, on the other hand, is a philosophy which posits that no animals should be used by humans for any reason. This includes for food, labor, and entertainment, among other ways animals are used in modern society. Animal rights activists, then, have a specific goal in mind: Ending the use of animals by humans.  

Animal welfare and animal rights differ based on one key aspect: Animal welfare is a fact-driven approach to our relationship with animals, whereas animal rights takes a philosophical approach. The animal welfare argument makes no position on the ethics of animal use, whereas the animal rights argument does. We at World Animal Protection believe that asking the world to end their relationships with animals after centuries of working and living alongside each other is not the most effective way to end the suffering of animals. We recognize the importance that human-animal relationships have in cultures and economies around the world. We are focused on asking people to make changes to their interactions with animals to better those animals’ lives. Our priorities lie both in the wellbeing of animals and humans. 

You can support our animal welfare advocacy by taking action on any of our active campaigns.

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