OVC Animal Welfare forum

29 09 2014

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 10.01.29 AMAndrea & Misha went to the OVC Animal Welfare Club’s forum this year, and here is their excellent overview:

Jackie Wepruk from NFACC gave a brief history of the codes of practice for farm animals and how the development process has expanded to include greater input from the scientific community, industry and public. She also acknowledged the issue of variability in managing the same welfare issue across different species (e.g. stricter requirements dealing with castration in horses compared to pigs). Her talk concluded with a quote illustrating NFACC’s consensus based philosophy. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Robert Laidlaw from ZooCheck offered a contrasting perspective. He argued that a consensus-based approach can be a slow and painful process when the system being reformed is fundamentally flawed. He focused on the zoo industry’s biggest problem: designing and building enclosures that reflect more of an aesthetic appeal to the public rather than fulfilling the animals’ needs. Thus, he concluded that the paradigm of zoos needs to change: they need to put animals’ needs as their first priority. This has made him a controversial character within the zoo community, not a consensus builder!

Dr. Scott Petrie persuasively argued the value of hunting for economic, ecological and social reasons. In some cases, his presentation was more advocacy oriented than scientifically founded (e.g. hunting doesn’t make people prone to violence because Nelson Mandela hunted). At face value, he made convincing pro-hunting arguments, but it may be wise to seek a second opinion (or better yet –evidence) before propagating his entire message!

Overall, there was a recurring theme in many of the talks about the value of providing animals with a natural life. Dr. Patricia Turner described how there has been an increasing movement to retire laboratory primates into natural-like refuge facilities. Jackie Wepruk explained that naturalness of farm environments is becoming an issue of focus, mainly a result of public perceptions that natural is better. Dr. Scott Petrie boasted the moral superiority of hunting over animal agriculture, arguing that hunted animals have a higher quality of life. Lastly, Rob Laidlaw looked to the natural ecology of zoo animals to inform the design of their captive environments.  Very little scientific evidence exists on the importance of nature in animal welfare; however, this year’s CSAW forum suggests that there is a perception among scientists and the public that it is relevant to animals’ quality of life.