Vets Discuss Welfare Assessment, Semantics, Regulation

Far from being a topic rooted only in science, how we protect animal welfare is affected by such diverse elements as politics, ethics, and semantics, said international speakers at a welfare symposium at Michigan State University held earlier this month.

The three-day Joint International Educational Symposium on Animal Welfare was developed and co-sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). It included international speakers discussing the vast array of inputs and influences affecting animal welfare decisions.

Dan Marsman, DVM, PhD, chair of the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee and head of the Animal Welfare and Animal Alternatives Section, Product Safety & Regulatory Affairs Department at Procter & Gamble, was particularly excited at the opportunity to bring together a diverse group of individuals with such broad backgrounds to exchange information and determine how they might work cooperatively to find reasonable approaches to animal welfare challenges.

"Although our roles and experiences may be vastly different, we all have a vested interest in good animal welfare outcomes," Marsman said. "It's important for scientists and others who have valuable information to contribute to be able to come together in one venue to provide their perspectives and share ideas."

Presenters included:

  • Candace Croney, PhD, from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, began the day discussing the implications of semantics and imagery in framing animal welfare issues. Often, statements based on scientific research can be less effective than emotive imagery, especially in a culture that relies on sound bites, Croney said. She encouraged veterinarians to work on developing a common, consistent message on animal welfare.
  • Janice Swanson, PhD, from the Michigan State University Department of Animal Science and Large Animal Clinical Sciences, explained that how animal welfare assessment varies among scientists, with different training and backgrounds, leading to different views. Emphasizing different aspects of animal welfare can lead to different conclusions, which is why a multidisciplinary approach to animal welfare is so essential, Swanson said.
  • David Mellor, PhD, from the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre at Massey University in New Zealand, discussed how science was able to determine whether fetal and newborn animals were conscious and how this information was used to frame related regulations in New Zealand and guidance developed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Mellor used this as an example of putting animal welfare science into practice.
  • Paul Thompson, PhD, a philosophy professor from Michigan State University, focused on the ethical treatment of livestock and public perceptions of animal welfare.
  • David Bayvel, BVMS, DTVM, MPP, MACVSc, MRCVS, a veterinarian from New Zealand who chairs the OIE Animal Welfare Working Group, described the OIE's multifaceted definition of animal welfare and how scientific, ethical, economic, cultural, religious and political influences affect the organization's development and delivery of animal welfare-related guidance.
  • Peter Thornber, BVSc, BAppSci, DipT, MACVSc (Welfare), a veterinarian from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Australia, followed by describing the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy. The strategy uses a multistakeholder platform that allows a variety of voices on animal welfare to come together to create standards, guidelines and codes of practice that help people understand and meet related responsibilities and expectations.
  • Dr. Laurence Bonafos from the European Commission in Belgium described how current animal welfare standards in the European Union were established, and the initiatives underway to update those standards, raise awareness and create consensus on ensuring animal welfare across the globe.
  • Gail Golab, PhD, DVM, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, discussed the combination of federal, state, and local regulations and voluntary programs that protect animal welfare in the United States, the gaps in those protections, and how they will likely be filled in the future.

More information on the 2009 AVMA/AAVMC Joint International Educational Symposium on Animal Welfare.

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