With this column coming hot on the heels of our recent meeting in London (of which you can read elsewhere in the edition) it allows some reflection of the importance of the policy debate. This is timely given the recent publication of FAWC’s report 'Farm Animal Welfare in Great Britain: Past Present and Future’. Importantly reflecting on the ethical basis for the humane treatment of farm animals, the report also brings together many contemporary issues. In the light of FAWC’s view that confident ethical conclusions are best made when supported convincingly by facts and ethical arguments which arise from discussion and debate I feel that the recent AWSELVA meeting more than adequately fitted the bill!
Significantly, much emphasis in the report is given to the move towards ensuring the presence of the positive rather than the absence of the negative when evaluating animal experiences, and that policy should focus on this shift; how timely then that our recent meeting considered policy aspects in greater depth. Another area where AWSELVA members may have a greater role to play, and is suggested in general terms in the report, is in the educational task still to be completed. I particularly commend to you the concept of the quality of life approach showing that from poor welfare to good welfare we move from a life not worth living, through a life worth living, to a ‘good life’. The concept was introduced at a stakeholder meeting and was favourably received. The stages could be matched to the avoidance of unnecessary suffering, the proposed minimum legal welfare standard in Britain and attributes clearly beyond the minimum legal standard.
The report also reflects on whether the vision of the 1965 Brambell Committee has been realised and considers the ethical principles underpinning farm and welfare. There is a very useful appendix covering ethical principles: intended for a lay reader in this area it will be interesting to see how our certificate and diploma members read this. A final note of importance, to me at least, is the concern about the current rate of progress on improving animal welfare. The report suggests a number of reasons for this and introduces the important issue of ‘Guardianship’, with the Government acting as the guardian of farm animal welfare, with effective and efficient measures in place.
Moving ahead on this theme it is interesting to see how well ethical and welfare principles are being incorporated into production animal research. The recent meeting at the end of August in Barcelona of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP) saw a number of very relevant presentations on animal welfare issues (some arising from the Welfare Quality project). There was a session dedicated to the analysis of risk factors in livestock welfare which considered issues such as on farm welfare assessment tools and risk-based indicators. There was a very interesting presentation on the type of language used to describe common concerns about animal welfare and this social science approach is becoming much more prominent.
Particularly timely and of great interest was the session on the incorporation of ethical considerations in professions in the livestock industry. Coming at the end of a long and busy conference it was a remarkably well attended session with topics including the introduction of ethics into science higher education (including teaching methodologies) through a modular approach. One presentation also reviewed the current provision of ethical education across Europe and the wide scope of a particular course which included both taught and self-learning elements. (Many educational issues in a broader sense were also discussed at the British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation’s discussion forum in May this year with a particular emphasis on the education for pet owners). The session also included a review of how the Welfare Quality project was developing a tool for the overall assessment of animal welfare at farm level and how this could be implemented through practical welfare programmes. We also considered the possible impact of automation systems in animal farming and monitoring and the ethical issues that these raise.
The EAAP is organised through a collection of ‘Commissions’ and it was good to have a chance to discuss with those responsible for the commission and on animal management and health whether animal welfare (including ethical aspects) could become a thematic area. I believe this would be a significant step forwards.
Ethical thinking moves on of course and some pressing issues may be diluted by the passage of time. Transgenic work leading to the infamous pink chicks caused particular concern and more recently we have seen animals with fluorescent marker genes. Are these cases more challenging because we see a more overt impact on the animal’s telos? A recent report in Nature of the first transgenic primates able to pass on a foreign gene (expressing a fluorescent protein) to their offspring was anticipated to cause wide public debate but actually did not seem to rouse many correspondents, at least in the UK.
I hope that you enjoy reading and find valuable the papers contained in this edition of our journal. As the editors often note, we are anxious to include as many thought-provoking and informative articles as possible. If you have suggestions in this regard, or any other comments, please do get in touch.