Five Freedoms, Technology and Autonomy in Animal Farming: a Report from the Netherlands

Muñoz Sanz V. (2022). Five Freedoms, Technology and Autonomy in Animal Farming: a Report from the Netherlands. Monumental Wastelands Magazine, issue 1: Autonomy.

The Beter Leven label and its three-star ranking system is shown in the packaging of all animal farming products in Dutch supermarkets. Ideated by the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals in 2007, the number of stars refer to the conditions in which dairy cows, pigs, broilers, laying hens, beef cattle, veal calves, turkeys and rabbits live while they ‘perform their labour’. The more stars, the more ‘animal-friendly’ their life in the farm is.

If the animals in Orwell’s Animal Farm set their own set of seven commandments in their rebellion against humans, the later species actually develop a set of commandments which today lay at the foundation of the ideas of animal welfare, including Beter Leven. Following the profound impact of Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines (1964) and her look at gruesome practices of intensive farming in the 1960’s, the UK Farm Welfare Council released in a press statement a set of non-mandatory codes. These codes aimed at creating the best possible standards of welfare for animals in all systems of livestock husbandry. The way these were expressed made this to known as the Five Freedoms: Freedom from hunger or thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain and disease; freedom to express normal patterns behaviour; and freedom from fear.

A look at the demands to achieve these freedoms, and the resulting stars in their labels, denote the fundamental role, and responsibility, that the design of the built environment – the architecture and landscape of farming—has in providing care and welfare. Space, variety, contact with the exterior, materials, light, ventilation are terms that repeat across the reported needs of the different species. Today, another layer has entered the picture of welfare, and that is technology. Systems of software, environmental control and automation promise to emancipate animals, with the architecture of farm buildings becoming an assembly of organic and synthetic non-humans.