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Shepherd or sheep? World vets take charge on welfare

Six takeaways for producers and their industries to watch, as vets push toward a fresh approach to welfare leadership that includes greater international cooperation

Posted: May 8, 2014

Canada was well represented at an innovative global forum on the role of veterinary leadership in the field of animal welfare.

Participants from a variety of countries around the world tuned in via interactive webinar to hear presentations and panel discussions from the Global Webinar on Animal Welfare, hosted by the World Veterinary Association (WVA) from its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

A lead player in the event was Canada's own Dr. Duane Landals, current Vice President of WVA, responsible for policy. Landals has been closely involved in the development of WVA's recent position papers on the "One Health" concept and the role of the veterinarian in animal welfare. He served as a panelist during the webinar was also selected to provide a viewpoint in response to a presentation on the focus on animal welfare in veterinary schools.

"Leadership in animal welfare is a priority for our organization and for our profession," says Landals. "As global understanding and concern for animal welfare continues to evolve, so to must the role of the veterinary community."

Here are six key takeaways from the webinar:

1. Farm animal care is a rising global priority. During the World Veterinary Congress in September, 2013, the WVA and European Commission (EC) organized the first Global Veterinary Seminar on Animal Welfare. The main event of this seminar was a high level panel discussion on the question "Are veterinarians the shepherd or the sheep regarding animal welfare?" Though veterinarians have arguable been a major part of the front line for animal welfare for decades, this signaled the rising profile of animal welfare, including farm animal care, as a focus of attention internationally, as well as an area where the veterinary community is becoming more active in reinforcing and expanding on this role for a new era.

2. The world is working together. In addition to WVA and the EC, the webinar included participation from a number of key organizations including the EU Animal Welfare Indications Project (AWIN), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the European Food Safety Authority (AFSA), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), the International Veterinary Students Association, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association (WAVMA) and others.

Following on the success of the Global Veterinary Seminar on Animal Welfare, the webinar signals a continuation of animal welfare as a major, ongoing priority for knowledge sharing and collaboration.


A well-known leader in the veterinary and animal welfare communities, Alberta-based Dr. Duane Landals is Vice President of the World Veterinary Association

3. Knowledge for all is the key to global success. Welfare should not be a competitive issue and the countries of the world should help one another to drive collective progress and leave no one behind. This sentiment figures prominently in both the initial seminar and follow-up webinar.

Among a number of key areas of consensus, conclusions include that "Education, training and capacity building in animal welfare science should be promoted globally," "Collaborative interdisciplinary opportunities should be fostered to promote a generation of new knowledge and rapid dissemination of the information," "Initiative should be taken to promote veterinary engagement and visibility in animal welfare issues," and "Animal welfare resources, expertise and information should be available globally in order to promote sound policies and legislation to improve animal and human welfare."

4. The producer-veterinarian relationship is critical. The EFSA and others have emphasized that the welfare of food producing animals depends largely on how they are managed by humans. Arguably no relationship has greater impact at a primary level than producers and veterinarians working together to ensure this responsible management, along with continual innovation. A few among many key examples of the range of factors can impact on farm animal welfare at the producer level include: animal health protocols, housing and bedding, space and crowding, handling approaches and procedures such as castration of males and tail docking.

5. Welfare consciousness increasing with the next generation – Essential now to support continual evolution of vet curriculum. It's a truism that young people are the future and that's why it's essential to have the next generation of veterinarians helping to lead the charge for innovation. At the student level, the degree of sophistication and consciousness of concept of supporting animals "to be in a state of good welfare" is arguably at an all-time high.

"Animal welfare is a core mandate of the veterinary community and of veterinarians individually," says Landals. "Veterinary education has traditionally provided a foundation for veterinarians to be skilled in delivering animal health care needs so the requirements of the 'five freedoms' are met. However societal understanding of animal welfare is constantly changing. This change drives an evolution in the role of the veterinarian in animal welfare and consequently demands continual development and change of veterinary education curriculum."

6. Taking charge for a new era of progress. "The role of the veterinarian goes well beyond simply treating sick animals and preventing disease spread," says Landals. "All veterinarians must play an active role in educating, informing and influencing animal owners and caregivers in regards to animal welfare. They also must engage in scientific endeavors that lead to better understanding of animal welfare, and the application of this information in veterinary practice."

NewStream Farm Animal Care was among the numerous participants from around the world in the Global Webinar. Watch for more information and insights in the next edition.


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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