Two major veterinary associations have listed animal welfare as their top strategic priority in response to overwhelming feedback from veterinarians.
In February the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) launched its 2016-2021 five year strategy, with animal welfare taking the number one position of five priority areas. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) also launched its new animal welfare policy, entitled Vets Speaking Up for Animal Welfare. Both policies stress the need for veterinarians to advocate animal welfare.
AVA President Robert Johnson said that while there was an assumption that every veterinarian has the welfare of animals on their agenda, there was a need to “make a clear statement that animal welfare is a top priority.”
The AVA’s animal welfare strategy incorporates four streams: companion animals, production animals, leadership in animal welfare and reactive advocacy to issues that arise. The latter includes issues such as puppy factories, greyhound racing reforms, Hendra virus management, live export, humane control of invasive species and equine dentistry.
“Our vision is to be leaders in health and welfare in Australia’s animal industries,” he said. “People may comment about whether we’re an industry or profession, but we’re talking about the veterinary profession within animal industries. The AVA not only needs to be leading the profession, but showing leadership in Australian animal industries. We need to be speaking up for animals whenever the issue of animal welfare arises.”
The AVA had already taken a leadership role in building on the work of the now-disbanded Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, following a round table involving key stakeholders last October.
“We need to keep that momentum going,” Johnson said.
BVA President Sean Wensley said that the association “recognises that promoting the best interests of animals and their treatment, wherever they are used or impacted on by people, is important to veterinary professional identity.”
“Animal welfare has consistently emerged as a top lobbying priority of BVA members in member research surveys,” he said.
In particular, there were calls to build on the BVA’s high-profile animal welfare campaigns such as the campaign to end slaughter without pre-stunning.
Both associations acknowledge an increased public concern for animal welfare.
“It is clear that public, scientific, media and political interest in animal welfare will continue to grow,” Wensley said. “Animal welfare science – elucidating how animals experience the world and what they need and want from their perspectives – has developed over the last 50 years and has brought an influential evidence base to questions about animal welfare and prompted further ethical debate about how animals ought to be used. Veterinary science is also advancing rapidly, making new medical and surgical therapies available, with associated ethical considerations about what should be done versus what can be done.”
He acknowledged that while there can be tensions, with veterinarians having duties to animals, clients and employers, the profession is animal-welfare focused, as distinct from being client or vet focused.
“Working with our clients and being economically viable are, of course, essential, but they are enablers for us to improve animal welfare.”
Sydney University Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, Paul McGreevy, welcomed the new strategies from both organisations.
“Animal welfare is an issue whose time has come and we now see the veterinary profession is stepping-up in ways that would have been unthinkable just ten years ago,” he said. “Speaking up for animals is about to become a core expectation of our profession, not a mere side-serving from the brave and detached.”
McGreevy is leading an Office of Teaching and Learning grant developing a shared animal welfare and ethics teaching resource across eight veterinary schools in the region.
“As the evidence for animal sentience has become too compelling to ignore, many vets have gained the confidence and conviction to speak up for animals. The advent of evidence-based advocacy for animals makes this an exciting time to be a veterinarian.”