Developmental instability, of which fluctuating asymmetry is the most commonly used and recommended measure, has recently been claimed to be an objective, integrated and retrospective indicator of animal welfare. The theoretical and empirical grounds for these claims are reviewed. In
theory, carefully selected composite indices of fluctuating asymmetry are valid indicators of animal welfare in the sense that they reflect the ability of the developmental processes of an animal, with a given genetic constitution, to cope with environmental stressors. Relevant scientific
experiments are scant and are mainly restricted to poultry, but they are on the increase and they largely support the application of developmental instability for assessing animal welfare. A scheme for monitoring farm animal welfare based purely on measures of developmental instability would
have important advantages, but cannot be recommended yet. It cannot be ruled out that certain factors are clearly relevant to the welfare status of an animal but do not notably/proportionally affect its morphogenesis. Moreover, such a monitoring scheme would not be appropriate for applications
with an emphasis on problem analysis/management.