International animal welfare concerns continue to attract the attention of the public. Usually these are highly charged issues and, as with any polarised “debate” such as the morality of using animals in scientific research, there seem to be few fora in which an objective or even, dare I say, rational debate can be held, and which will engage all the protagonists. In the case of the use of animals in scientific work, the Boyd Group has been a notable success.
The onset of the peak of the Canadian seal hunt in the Gulf of St Lawrence and around Newfoundland has been highlighted in the media recently, throwing into sharp relief the international dimension of animal welfare and associated ethical debates. With over 200,000 seal pups reported to have been killed last year according to protestors, there is the potential for a huge accumulated welfare “cost” to be incurred. On the other hand, the Canadian government is reported to claim that the hunt is humane, sustainable and responsible. From a population biology perspective we should be able to establish whether a population reduction of this magnitude is, indeed, sustainable (given an agreed baseline) but I have not seen any attempt to conduct an ethical cost–benefit analysis of the method.
The moves to restrict some observers and thus reduce the public profile of this activity militate against a fully open debate. But where would such a discussion be held and who would act as an honest broker, respected by all parties? interestingly, EFSA have recently considered the animal welfare aspects of the killing and skinning of seals and engaged the views of twenty-five stakeholder organisations in drawing up their scientific opinion.
Of course a focus on international issues should not be at the expense of ignoring issues closer to home (e.g. concerns over culling for disease control). Furthermore, given that these measures are often based on requirements at a European level, AWSELVA needs to be in dialogue with like-minded groups across the continent to help to further debates such as these. The Eurogroup is reported to be concerned that animal welfare issues should be debated within the Commission’s new Animal Health Strategy and the recent actions of OIE to embrace animal welfare along with animal health is a development that I hope we can all applaud. It will be interesting to see how OIE works to reconcile different national stances on animal welfare in the same way that disease control practices are being harmonised.
Food security, even for developed countries, is rapidly rising up the political agenda and I predict resurgence in the ethical debate relating to animal biotechnology; I found it useful to read again the relevant section in Gordon Gatward’s thoughtful book Livestock Ethics published in 2001. AWSELVA members should be well informed and able to offer valuable guidance in such debates: ethical food production/procurement programmes developed over the past few years may need to be re-evaluated in the light of possible food shortages. I wonder how durable the desire to purchase “ethical” animal products will be?
One of AWSELVA’s key roles is to provide educational and development opportunities in relevant areas. Your committee members are currently working hard to develop an exciting programme for the annual meeting in October. The importance of adequate training is highlighted by the increasing number of reports of the ethical dilemmas which trouble new graduates, in particular, and for which they may feel ill equipped. I hope that the meeting will be attractive to both existing and potential new members: I look forward to seeing you all there!