Response or Comment
Beilharz says: "The evolutionary processes, if they are not obstructed or misdirected, must lead to such a degree of adaptation that welfare will have to be taken for granted, just as we can do no better than to take for granted the welfare of any wild animal in its natural habitat." From this statement, one might conclude all we have to do is wait, and the animals will eventually adapt to intensive systems. Concerning animals put into new kinds of environments, he states that, if individuals do not have the capacity to adjust phenotypically, "adaptation of the population will require a rapid genetic response to prevent dying out of the population." This comment may suggest that one does not have to wait very long for the animals to adapt successfully to intensive systems. He also notes that it is likely that a rapid genetic response is accompanied by much "suffering." From this, one might conclude that suffering during such a process is only "natural," and is therefore justified.
Beilharz writes further that the procedure of adaptation "may have to be approached in stages, if the environmental conditions aimed at are radically different from those to which the animals are now adapted." Because he fails to tell us whether intensive husbandry systems belong in this last category of environmental conditions, one might conclude that it is not necessary to adapt animals in stages if they are to be kept under intensive conditions.
Therefore, because these statements of Beilharz could be misused to defend the practice of keeping animals under the stress of intensive conditions, under the rationalization that this is part of a long-term rational plan, I want to discuss each of these statements in the following comment.
Van Rooijen, J. (1983). Genetic adaptation and welfare. International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 4(3), 191-197.