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Speaking up for animal welfare

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‘OUR understanding of animals is changing and so too are society's attitudes towards how animals should be used. Over the last 50 years novel scientific methods have been employed to help determine how animals perceive the world, and to better understand their needs, preferences, pleasures and pains. As society re-evaluates how it manages animals in light of this new information, the veterinary profession is also adapting. There is growing expectation that the profession will reflect this new scientific understanding in its policies and practices, and will use it to lead public debate on the acceptability of current animal husbandry methods.

‘Concurrently, there is a requirement to interpret “animal welfare” in a contemporary way; that is, one that incorporates all key determinants of an animal's wellbeing, such as appropriate companionship and the ability to express important normal behaviour. Treating and preventing illness and injury is necessary but not, in itself, sufficient to safeguard animal welfare.’

That forms part of the rationale for the BVA's animal welfare strategy, as explained by the Association's President, Sean Wensley. The strategy, called ‘Vets speaking up for animal welfare’,1 was launched this week, having been approved by the Association's Council in December (VR, January 9, 2016, vol 178, p 36). In his foreword to the document, Mr Wensley further explains that animal welfare has been identified as a top lobbying priority by BVA members, and that the strategy, which has been produced with input from representatives from across the veterinary profession, will help the Association to develop tools to assist veterinary surgeons fulfil their roles in relation to animal welfare, as well as to identify policies on which to lobby. ‘Meaningful progress on animal welfare problems will be attained gradually, but this strategy will ensure BVA proceeds in line with our members’ and society's expectations,' he says. ‘It sends a clear signal that the veterinary profession will be a considerable force for good, for animals and for an increasingly compassionate society, in the years ahead.’

The document explains that the purpose of the strategy is ‘to provide a clear, coherent and consistent approach for BVA to advocate good animal welfare and to support members to maximise their advocacy potential and achieve good welfare outcomes for animals’. The ultimate aim will be for the BVA and its members ‘to contribute to solutions for real-world animal welfare problems’.

The strategy does not set out to identify and address specific animal welfare problems at this stage; rather, it provides a framework for progress by focusing on areas that need to be developed. Six priority areas are identified in the document, and each is discussed in turn. These are: animal welfare assessment, ethics, legislation, education, advocacy, and ‘international’.

Regarding animal welfare assessment, the BVA intends to review its working definition of animal welfare and its approach to animal welfare in the light of widely used frameworks. Regarding ethics, it will consider issues such as how veterinary professionals balance their duties to clients, animals and employers, and look to find ways of supporting members in ethical decision-making and moral reasoning. On legislation, it intends to provide guidance and support on animal welfare legislation and its practical application while, on education, it will consider the need for ongoing education in animal welfare, ethics and law.

With regard to advocacy, the strategy document makes the point that advocating the best interests of animals is required both in clinical settings, as well as in veterinary policies and animal welfare campaigns. Here, the aim will be to establish consensus on ways in which the veterinary profession feels it is appropriate to campaign for animal welfare improvements, and to provide guidance on being effective advocates for animals in clinical settings.

At the international level, the strategy recognises that animal welfare is ‘a global issue, to be progressed within the context of many other global challenges’. The aim here will be to work in partnership with international veterinary and animal welfare organisations ‘to promote the roles and status of sentient animals, to advance sustainable development and One Health objectives’.

Animal welfare has always been fundamental to the veterinary profession's activities and, indeed, is its reason for being. However, it has become clear in recent years that, as knowledge has increased and attitudes have changed, many of its members are keen to take a more proactive role. The BVA's strategy reflects this, as does the recent report summarising the findings of the first phase of the joint RCVS/BVA Vet Futures project, which identified veterinary leadership in animal health and welfare as one six key ambitions for the profession (VR, November 21, 2015, vol 177, pp 502, 503-504). This put forward the vision that ‘veterinary professionals are seen as a leading force for animal health and welfare science, policy and practice throughout society, and our unrivalled expertise and evidence base is valued by government, the public and other stakeholders.’

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