Plenary Speakers

Farm animal welfare: ‘Wickedness’ and why it stymies progress

Dr B. Helen Beattie, BVSc, GCTLT, CAWI, Cert Mata ā Ao Māori

Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa (VAWA), New Zealand

There are many, widely variable barriers to implementation of animal welfare science knowledge. These include genuine gaps in understanding, a wilful disregard of knowledge, welfare-washing, vested interests, bank-lending criteria, government policy and regulatory capture. For farmed animals, a lack of long-term, strategic leadership may preclude implementation of new knowledge. Animal welfare may also be deprioritised in favour of the environment and/or economics. Financial and farm consultants’ advice and industry narratives can remain stubbornly unchanging despite evidence that alternative systems and practices with better welfare are profitable. These barriers to change are perhaps particularly evident with farmed animals, but apply to other animals, such as companion and research animals and ‘pests.’ There can be stark contrast between knowledge and welfare that are underpinned by our value and belief systems. Any progress to implement new knowledge needs to consider human behaviour change science. In making progress, an holistic One Health | One Welfare | te ao Māori/indigenous approach needs to be used. This means the welfare of Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) is ensured, and in turn, she can support the welfare of our animals, and our people.

Helen is a veterinarian with an eclectic career – clinical practice, locuming and the foot and mouth response in the UK, practice ownership, motherhood, educating veterinary nurses, being a warranted animal welfare inspector and shelter veterinarian for SPCA, and being the NZVA’s Chief Veterinary Officer. Helen is now the Managing Director of Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa (VAWA), a position that allows her primary passion of animal welfare advocacy and education consume her time, as VAWA drives change towards ‘A Good Life’ for animals. VAWA’s advocacy is guided by a One Health, One Welfare, te ao Māori approach, all of which acknowledge the interconnectedness of people, animals and the environment.

*VAWA is a charitable, membership organisation; membership is for everyone who supports a veterinary-led, science-backed, independent advocacy voice for animal welfare.

Evidence based approach in enhancing Animal Welfare within Africa

Dr Dennis Bahati

Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW)
Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) believes that, as sentient beings, animals should not suffer. However, it is becoming apparent that animals are increasingly suffering as people pursue various development goals and progress in Africa. Consequently, the changes happening in society have created situations whereby animals are unable to cope naturally, hence becoming unhealthy, living in pain, distress and discomfort. Animals are increasingly unable to adapt to the growing human needs in Africa. This has resulted in poor animal welfare throughout the continent. To address these challenges, ANAW embraces knowledge-based approaches and applied research to guide specific, desirable actions towards improving animal welfare standards in Africa. The pressure to bring immediate relief to suffering animals tends to override questions concerning the long-term effectiveness of particular interventions. However, significant and sustained improvements in the treatment of animals will only be reached by employing the kinds of evidence-based approaches that are used in other sectors. There is continued need for careful assessment of outcomes, to determine which policies and practices are ultimately successful and which are not and hence determine what works for Africa.

Dr Dennis Bahati is a Program Manager at Africa Network for Animal Welfare and an
accomplished Veterinarian and Programme, Research and Advocacy Specialist with over 9 years of experience in leading animal welfare and conservation initiatives. Adept in managing and executing projects spanning across Africa, with a strong commitment to the well-being of animals, wildlife conservation, and community engagement. He has been engaged in orchestrating multifaceted campaigns, conducting impactful research, and fostering collaborative partnerships to drive positive change. He possesses a deep understanding of the complexities of animal welfare and conservation issues in various African contexts, seeking opportunities to leverage expertise in program management, research, and community outreach to advance the cause of animal welfare and environmental conservation. In addition to undertaking several animal welfare programs, Dr Bahati is currently engaged in Cage-Free Campaigns and Research in Africa focused on establishing the extent of adoption of caged farming in East, West and Southern Africa. This has been combined with assessing the gaps within the legal and policy frameworks governing the poultry industry as well as consumers’ perception on chicken caged farming and its influence on their purchasing characteristics. Dr Bahati was involved in the planning and execution of the first Chicken Cage Free Conferences in East Africa that was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in May 2022 and in Accra, Ghana in April 2023 that highlighted on key recommendations to tackle caged farming in the regions as well as the whole continent. With a high regard for life, Dr Bahati accentuates key sentiments of The Dalai Lama who believed that at the most fundamental level, our nature is compassionate, and that cooperation, not conflict, lies at the heart of the basic principles that govern our human existence. By living a way of life that expresses our basic goodness, we fulfil our humanity and give our actions dignity, worth, and meaning.

Impact of science in improving aquatic animal welfare

Prof Lynne  Sneddon

University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Concern over the welfare of aquatic animals has grown dramatically in recent years. Prior to 2002 it was thought that fishes could not perceive pain and cultural references as well as dietary choices seem to reflect less care for these aquatic animals. However, the identification of nociceptors in the rainbow trout and subsequent work on responses to painful treatment demonstrated that fish were able to experience discomfort associated with tissue damage. This has led to dramatic changes in the way fishes are considered in public opinion and with respect to their treatment in aquaculture, fisheries and in the laboratory. This presentation will focus on how empirical data can influence science, animal care, industries that use aquatic animals, government and regulatory bodies. Engaging with the media can drive the dissemination of information regarding the science behind fish welfare and has led to improvements in the treatment of aquatic animals. To overcome barriers to improving the care and welfare of fishes it is important that there is effective communication between animal carers and researchers so that pain management strategies can be adopted. How scientific findings can be used to change public opinion and have a cultural impact will be highlighted and related to current concerns over other aquatic species including decapod crustaceans and cephalopods.  

Dr Sneddon has worked for over two decades on topics that have advanced fish health and welfare and used her research to drive the agenda for the improved welfare of fishes. Fish welfare was an understudied area prior to 2002 since it was previously believed that they did not possess pain receptors(nociceptors). Sneddon worked in Dr Mike Gentle’s laboratory at the Roslin Institute, UK to identify nociceptors on the head and face of rainbow trout for the first time which was published in 2002. This novel discovery that fish experience pain has since fuelled Sneddon’s research, and she has dedicated her career to informing the way in which fishes are treated in the laboratory and in other contexts. Sneddon has become the recognized world expert on fish welfare and was invited to develop training resources, participate in workshops, and deliver educational events and talks to veterinarians as well as technical care staff and academics. She is also regularly invited to give talks at academic conferences, laboratory animal meetings, animal law conferences, public events and to industry and other stakeholders. In 2023, Sneddon was awarded the Johns Hopkins CAAT and Charles River Excellence in Refinement Award and she gave the Charles River Ethics and Animal Welfare Lecture at the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) meeting. Sneddon currently leads her team at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden investigating how to improve the way we treat fishes, decapod crustaceans and cuttlefish.

WOAH's animal welfare commitment: From science to standards

Dr Leopoldo H. Stuardo Escobar, DVM, MSc

World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH)

Since its founding in 1924, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE) has been responsible for setting intergovernmental animal health standards. In 1995, when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was established, the WOAH animal health Standards were specifically recognised in the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. In 2002, at the request of its Member Countries, the WOAH broadened its mandate to include animal welfare standards on its Terrestrial and Aquatic Animal Health Codes, noting that animal health is a key component of animal welfare. The first WOAH standards on animal welfare were published in 2005 and new Standards continue to be added. To date, fourteen Chapters have been published in the Terrestrial Code and four in the Aquatic Code. WOAH animal welfare chapters are regularly updated considering new developments in scientific knowledge, and the WOAH World Assembly of Delegates adopts all WOAH standards. Animal welfare has been recognised as a complex and multifaceted issue and these aspects makes the implementation of the WOAH animal welfare standards challenging among their Members. Implementation of WOAH animal welfare chapters at national level, are recognized as an integral and important part of establishing and improving the legal framework regarding animal welfare. To support the implementation of WOAH animal welfare Standards, WOAH Members adopted the WOAH Global Animal Welfare Strategy (GAWS) in 2017. This strategy was developed from lessons learned from actions taken at national and regional levels and aims to be a source of ongoing guidance for the WOAH’s animal welfare activities.

Leopoldo graduated from the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Chile and obtained his Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Management from the Catholic University of Louvain (LLN) in Belgium. Leopoldo has broad experience working at national and international level dealing with sanitary negotiations related to trade and in developing international standards and national regulations on animal welfare. Leopoldo has been developed these activities at the Agriculture and Livestock Service (SAG) from the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture, at the Chilean Mission to the European Union in Brussels and at the Headquarters of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) in Paris. Currently, Leopoldo is working at the Standards Department of the WOAH, in charge of the animal welfare activities related to the WOAH Terrestrial and Aquatic Animal Health Codes.

How does animal welfare research change policy and practice, and how should it in the future? 

Prof Georgia Mason

University of Guelph, Canada

I will discuss three main routes by which welfare research can change policy and practice. 1) Research publications accrue into a corpus of literature: a consensus for use by working groups and committees. Pros: Impactful findings are likely to be well replicated and widely-generalisable. Cons: They may not be, because human committees are flawed; very slow (a paper might take decades to have impact). 2) Research is collaborative with animal industry; results are then adopted voluntarily. Pros: Impact can be rapid, and widely adopted; Cons: Likely limited to incremental, inexpensive changes. 3) Research attracts media attention, generating political/ PR-related pressure. Pros: Impact can be rapid, and major; Cons: Public opinion can be arbitrary; basing policy on one paper is risky; can generate resentment/resistance to change. Given these imperfections, I will argue that we should learn from how biomedical and clinical research translates to medical/public health policy. This means greater awareness of replicability issues, and of research practices prone to bias (e.g. omitting blinding); greater awareness of the construct and external validity needed make research relevant to the 'real world'; and greater awareness of transparent methods of research synthesis that are less prone to biases than the average committee.  

Georgia Mason is a prize-winning behavioural biologist who studies how animals adapt to captivity (or fail to), especially conditions that meet their physiological needs but are too small or monotonous to allow natural behaviour. She is also interested in the validation of animal welfare indicators, including refining how current indicators (e.g. stereotypic behaviour and judgment bias) are used; validating new indicators (e.g. species-specific signals like facial expressions); and knowing which species or stages of development actually have welfare at all (a.k.a. the mystery of animal sentience). Georgia has a first class degree in Zoology from Cambridge University (1984-1987), where she also did her PhD (1988-1992) and held a Clare College Research Fellowship (1991-1994). She then moved to Oxford's Zoology department, working for 5 years as a vertebrate biology 'demonstrator'(equivalent to an assistant professor), followed by a 5 year David Phillips Research Fellowship from the BBSRC. Georgia moved to Guelph in 2004 to take up a Canada Research Chair. She has over 200 publications, including a co-authored, edited book on stereotypic behaviour, and papers in Nature, Science and TREE. She has been a Visiting Professor in Welfare Physiology at the Royal Veterinary College (UK), an Honorary Research Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), as well as serving on numerous committees and working groups turning welfare science into policy (for instance for the European Union, the UK government’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the US’s National Academy of Science, and Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council and Canadian Council on Animal Care). Recently a finalist for a federal graduate advising award, she is passionate about effective graduate mentoring, and equity, diversity and inclusion issues in STEM.