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Advancing animal welfare science: How do we get there? - Who is it good for?

crowd of chickensUFAW International Symposium 2019

Site Oud Sint-Jan, Bruges, Belgium
3rd - 4th July 2019




Animal welfare science advances are needed to inform decisions on the care and legal protection provided for animals. This two day international symposium will explore two major themes:

1) Developments in animal welfare science that are likely to extend our understanding of animals’ needs or how to assess animal welfare or sentience. This symposium will provide an opportunity to present on new and exciting developments in animal welfare science methodologies and new findings that will inform animal welfare care or use.

Photo: ãPhil Heneghan

2) While the primary ethical case for being concerned about animal welfare is the presumption that some animal species have feelings and that those feelings matter to them, benefits to humans are often put forward as reasons for improving animal welfare. Examples include: an improved product for farmed animals, better models for animals used in research or animals more likely to survive and breed successfully if released into the wild for the zoo community. However, it is also the case that animal welfare and human goals and interests are not always linked.


With the above themes in mind, the purpose of this symposium is to:

  • Learn about new and exciting innovations and methodologies in animal welfare research and arising from research into sentience in animals.
  • Explore and test the extent of the idea that human and animal interests go hand in hand with improved welfare.
  • Investigate areas of animal use where there are particular challenges to improving animal welfare.
  • Identify new methodologies, approaches and technologies to improve animal welfare that have or could be used to address these challenges.

By considering whether and how animal welfare science can be used to make progress in these and other areas, our aim for the symposium is to develop and raise awareness of new ideas and to promote higher quality and better-focused animal welfare science.

The symposium will include both talks and poster presentations, and will feature the following keynote presentations:

  • Professor Linda Keeling (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden) Assessing animal welfare: biology, methodology and technology
  • Dr Joseph Garner (Stanford University, USA) From expediency to necessity: Why science without welfare thinking isn’t science worth doing
  • Dr Hans van de Vis (Wageningen Livestock Research, The Netherlands) Challenges associated with assessing and improving the welfare of farmed fish

Beautiful Bruges and a stimulating and successful symposium

On 3rd – 4th July, UFAW welcomed over 165 delegates from 25 countries to beautiful Bruges, Belgium for the latest in our on-going programme of international symposium, the first of which was held in 1957. Attending were leading scientists, veterinary surgeons and policy makers and others interested in animals and their welfare.

The symposium began for most on the evening of 2nd July in the spectacular environs of the gothic City Hall where they were welcomed to Bruges by City Alderman Mr Mathijis Goderis, who hosted a reception for the delegates. Mr Goderis talked about the importance of animal welfare and some of the recent actions the City Council had taken to protect the welfare of the horses in the city. UFAW’s CEO and Scientific Director Dr Robert Hubrecht then responded by thanking Alderman Goderis and the city of Bruges for welcoming the delegates so warmly and spoke of what they should expect over the next two days.

Animal welfare science advances are needed to inform decisions on the care and legal protection provided for animals and contributors to the symposium, ‘Advancing animal welfare science: How do we get there?  – Who is it good for?’, were asked to consider the following major themes:

1) Developments in animal welfare science that are likely to extend our understanding of animals’ needs or how to assess animal welfare or sentience.

2) The interplay and relationship between animal and human welfare.

Over the two days of the symposium, a range of speakers considered whether and how animal welfare science is used to make progress in these and other areas, developing and raising awareness of new ideas and promoting higher quality and better-focused animal welfare science.

The first speaker of the symposium – Dr Joseph Garner (Stanford University) – set the standard of scientific inquiry in his keynote speech ‘From expediency to necessity: Why science without welfare thinking isn’t science worth doing’. In a forceful and hard-hitting talk, Dr Garner argued that, for laboratory animals in particular, improvements to animal welfare were more likely to come from making the case against bad welfare rather than for good welfare. Using numerous examples from the scientific literature, he showed that bad welfare was not only bad for the animals but was also bad for science, public health and ethical grounds. He explored some of the reasons for the high failure rate in translating biomedical research findings from animals to humans; of 500+ studies reporting effective treatments for ischemic stroke, only 2 have translated to humans. Dr Garner then explained why he believed we are at a point where a paradigm shift is occurring in which there is a move towards treating animals as individuals (or patients as he put it) and rather than trying to control variability such variability is accepted and incorporated into experimental design. In this way, he argued, experiments become more robust and their findings more likely to be replicated – something increasingly important in a developing environment of personalized, biomarker based, medicine. He termed this new approach ‘Therioepistemology’. Dr Garner then went on to give further examples and discuss the importance of good experimental design and analysis in this approach.

Having been given plenty to think about in this opening talk, the symposium then went on to consider the benefits of animal welfare science and what animal welfare issues in farm, companion and wild animals were considered priorities by experts in the field – of which lack of knowledge of welfare needs of species and poor recognition and treatment of pain were two cross discipline areas.

Professor Linda Keeling (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) then explored the challenges and opportunities poised by developing technologies in her keynote talk ‘assessing animal welfare: Biology, methodology and technology’. She explained that the use of technology to monitor the environment is standard practice on most farms but that it was only just beginning to be used to monitor animal welfare. She considered how far in the future are we from smart farms that respond to feedback from individuals by, for example, automatically adjusting feed ration depending on back fat or milk produced or adjusting temperature in housing according to the behaviour of the animals in it and the use of iceberg indicators that are good markers for a range of welfare issues. The second part of Professor Keelings talk then discussed how the use of technology had made the collection of data on animal-based measures very easy and quick to do and that the limitation farmers and scientists had now was knowledge of how to analyse and interpret these measures. Machine learning offered one solution but the input of animal welfare scientists was needed to ensure that it was treating the information in a meaningful way.

Subsequent talks then explored some of these new technologies, such as the use of thermal image analysis, functional near-infrared spectroscopy and sound analysis and considered welfare in other species such as fish, dogs, penguins, dairy cows and others. The quality of these talks maintained that of those already reported and kept delegates engaged and challenged. UFAW members will be interested to know that on the second day Dr Helena Telkänranta (University of Finland) presented a first report of the positive findings of her UFAW supported work on the novel use of thermographic methods to measure emotions. Working with Professor Mike Mendal (University of Bristol) her work has found evidence of detectable lateral differences in eye and nostril temperature in cattle that potentally reflect emotional/affective state. A more complete report on her work appears elsewhere in the Annual Report.

In addition to these fascinating and stimulating talks, there were over 65 posters presentations too that further explored issues related to the symposium themes.

In between the speaker sessions, the beautiful symposium venue provided the perfect background for both established animal welfare scientists, early career researchers and the broad community of scientists, veterinarians and others concerned with animal welfare attending the meeting to discuss their work and what they had just heard about and exchange ideas and views. Indeed we know of a few new projects and avenues of research that arose out of the networking opportunities that the symposium provided.

We would like to thank all those who contributed to making the symposium so stimulating and enjoyable – the speakers, the poster presenters and chairs – and all the delegates and a special thanks to University of Ghent 3rd year veterinary students Evina Stylemansand Rebecca Jacobs for their help on the registration desk. Thanks also to the conference team from Oud Sint –Jan and Alderman Mr Mathijis Goderis for hosting the reception for delegates in the City Hall and welcoming us so warmly to Bruges. Many delegates left saying that they intended to return to Bruges soon to further explore this historic and captivating city.