AVMA’s International Educational Symposium on Animal Welfare

The AVMA along with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) recently held the first International Animal Welfare Symposium at Michigan State University November 8-11. The objective of the symposium was to help each attendee learn from the international community about animal welfare as an evolving discipline and how to best educate veterinarians to be effective decision-makers and advocates. Dr. Jim Kober attended and offers the following summary of the meeting.

1) DVM's in general are trusted as a reliable source of animal welfare information. Unfortunately, most DVM's do not have formal training in the welfare field. They have experience with animals and opinions on welfare. Historically, we have measured performance as indicators of animal well-being (i.e. if the animal is growing well, it must be ok). We like to measure stuff. As it turns out, not only do we need to consider the biological/physiological needs, we also must consider the cognitive measures (pain, frustration, contentedness) and the natural needs (rooting, nest making, etc). Generally different people/groups have different views of the same picture because they are not considering all of these aspects.

2) Some parts of the world, such as Australia and New Zealand, are better at reaching compromises with farm animal welfare than we are. Most groups and consumers are fine with some sort of compromises. The extreme groups (PETA, ALF) will never accept any sort of compromise. HSUS will actually somewhat compromise as experienced in Colorado and Michigan.

3) The EU has many more rules and regulations dealing with animal welfare and seems to have the people to audit and follow up on the regulations. They conduct lots of audits, etc.

4) The U.S. has lots of gaps in animal law and tremendous gaps in personnel and funding to be effective regulators, therefore it is the market place and consumer demands that drive the rules and regulations.

5) Even though there is nothing illegal about large farms with thousands of animals, even when they do everything correct environmentally, some people just don't like the thought of that and won't endorse that. It's just the way people think and all the rules and regulations known to mankind are not going to change their mind. Dr. Broom's work from the EU says there is a trend of people going away from meat, "simply because they don't like the way it is raised".

6) DVM's and producers tend to do what they "must do" for the animals. They need to do things they "should do" for the animals, even if it not required.

7) Much of the animal welfare work is done in the field by animal scientists or behaviorists, not DVM's, but DVM's seem to have the credibility. The Animal Science people say they don't mind this; their body language says otherwise.

8) As the public becomes more affluent, there has been a transformation on the thoughts of meat quality. a) Used to be purchased on price and taste. b) Next in importance was nutritional value and safety. c) Ethics of modern production are becoming the next measuring stick (animal welfare, environmental issues, fair payment for producers, local producers, "fair trade labels", GMO's.)

9) Natural does not always = good welfare. Some natural/organic farms have gone too natural and are now welfare threats in the opposite direction.

10) One of the main topics of this meeting was the fact that most CVM curriculums do not have any formal welfare training. Some schools are starting to offer electives, but few are in the core program. The administrators are slow to make changes to accommodate welfare. Perhaps needs to be Pre-professional?

Dr. Kober also expressed the observation that the animal scientists and academics are frustrated that the AVMA does not have a unified voice in the animal welfare debate. The AVMA may be too diverse to have single detailed position on animal welfare. Perhaps it's up to the individual allied groups (such as the food animal species groups) to develop specific positions governing welfare issues pertinent to their species of interest that comply with the overarching principles put forth by AVMA.

[Editor's Note: The AASV e-Letter wishes to thank Dr. Kober for agreeing to allow us to publish his thoughts regarding this symposium. If you have attended a recent meeting and would like to share your thoughts or a short summary of the presentations please feel free to email it to me at Snelson@aasv.org]