Review: Connecting circularity to animal welfare calls for a ‘novel’ conceptual framework based on integrity

M.B.M. Bracke*, I.J.M.M. Boumans, H.J. Nijland, E.A.M. Bokkers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The current food system is not sustainable. Circular agriculture aims to save the environment and produce food sustainably by closing nutrient cycles, possibly without improving animal welfare. This paper proposes a new conceptual framework, called a circular welfare economy (CWE), to facilitate a transition towards a sustainable agriculture based on integrity. The CWE framework explains how welfare relates to circular agriculture, how potential conflicts can be solved and what future livestock farming could look like. CWE applies the notion of circularity to welfare defined as the quality of life as perceived by the individual itself. CWE also identifies human integrity, defined as being open and honest, as a sine qua non for sustainability. Animal-welfare problems arise when animals are merely used as a means, e.g., for profits. Instead, profits and circular agriculture are means to the end of welfare. In a CWE, welfare is promoted sustainably, without causing undue need frustration in other individuals. This requires informed moral decision-making involving human integrity and the closure of welfare-related feedback loops. Conflicts between circular agriculture and animal welfare are solved by weighing all welfare needs impartially. Three future scenarios are presented: Animal-welfare-exclusive circular agriculture, which resembles modern intensive livestock farming, animal rights agriculture without livestock farming, and a CWE-based agriculture which integrates circular agriculture and animal welfare. In the latter case, we will not use animals merely as a means to close nutrient cycles, but take every effort, openly and honestly, to understand and benefit their points of view as we do our own.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100694
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • Circular agriculture
  • Ethics
  • Food system
  • Livestock farming
  • Sustainability


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