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Veterinary ethics and the humane treatment of animals

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The first International Conference on Veterinary and Animal Ethics, which was held in London recently, attracted speakers and delegates from a wide range of disciplines spanning veterinary medicine, animal welfare, law and the social sciences. Madeleine Campbell reports

THE conference, which was held at the Royal College of Physicians on September 12 and 13, opened with a paper given by vet-turned-historian Abigail Woods (Imperial College), outlining developments in veterinary practice, veterinary professional conduct and veterinary ethics from 1870 to 2000. She argued that the emphasis in veterinary ethics had shifted away from simply securing the veterinary care of animals to the consideration of the nature of that care.

Peter Sandoe (University of Copenhagen) explained how a parallel shift in emphasis had occurred in animal welfare science, so that emphasis on a simple lack of unnecessary suffering had, since the Farm Animal Welfare Council's report of 2009, been replaced by consideration of a ‘good life’ for animals. He finished with the challenging conclusion that if a method of production that was both welfare friendly and economically viable could not be found, production should be stopped in preference to accepting systems that obviously caused suffering.

This idea was further developed by Bernard Rollin (Colorado State University), who gave a paper explaining a core concept of his writing: that of animal ‘telos’ (‘the pigness of the pig; the dogness of the dog’). He argued that, if one accepted the idea of telos, one should be striving not simply to avoid harm to animals, but to maximise animal happiness, and that recognition that different things may …

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