One hardly needs to explain the significance of Ruth Harrison and her seminal book Animal Machines to an animal welfare oriented audience. Ruth Harrison’s book marked a change in the language surrounding animals. She argued that the animal cruelty vocabulary could not articulate the ways in which animals suffered in intensive production systems and as a consequence “Animal Welfare” entered the vocabulary. She also provided a definition of intensive production that I still quote to my students today: “Rapid turnover, high-density stocking, a high degree of mechanisation, a low labour requirement, and efficient conversion of food into saleable products, are the five essentials for a system of animal production to be called intensive”. I am thinking about this just now because at long last Animal Machines has been reprinted, and I no longer have to fight to get my hands on the one copy held by our library and then worry that it will be in my hands that this increasingly frail and over thumbed tome finally disintegrates.
AWSELVA serendipitously held its Spring meeting at the Royal Veterinary College, London on the theme of “Pushing the Boundaries – Does Animal Welfare Suffer” and I felt this had timely resonances with the questions that Ruth Harrison raised about the consequences of increasing the demands made on animals. The line up of excellent speakers at the AWSELVA meeting pertinently revisited livestock production (John Fishwick), and extended this discussion beyond Harrison’s original focus to include fish farming (Ben North), competition horses (Madeleine Campbell), army dogs (Neil Smith) and assistance dogs (Lee Stanway) and a backdrop of the ethical challenges of producing sustainable food to meet increasing global demands (Tara Garnett). The presentations were informative and challenging as always, presented the audience with insights into areas of animal production that, in some cases, are rarely seen and discussed.
Writing this review of our last meeting I am reminded of a meeting I had some time ago with a parachuted in ‘senior manager’ who was completely baffled to meet someone who spent their life thinking about, concerned about and questioning animal welfare science, ethics and law. He was adamant that animal welfare wasn’t a discipline that needed time spent on it, "everyone intuitively knows all there is to know about animal welfare” (which I think meant him). I wish he had been at the last AWSELVA meeting, perhaps he would have learnt a thing or two.
At the end of the AWSELVA Spring meeting came our AGM, which has a direct cause and effect relationship with me sitting here writing the Chair’s editorial. As I begin my term as Chair of AWSELVA, I am taking on the stewardship of an association that is in good shape and good heart. The membership of AWSELVA has been steadily growing and is at a record high and, thanks to Steve Wotton’s careful management of our finances, we no longer have to lie awake at night worrying about whether the next meeting we organise will spell financial ruin (AWSELVA members are traditionally late registrants for meetings!). The AWSELVA committee work tremendously hard, fitting the demands of the association into their busy lives and all deserve our thanks. However, I would like to finish by directing special thanks to our outgoing Chair Ed Varley and his predecessor Pete Goddard who have guided us to where we are today. The phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” seems very apt for where I find myself now.