Measuring animal welfare and applying scientific advances - Why is it still so difficult?

Measuring animal welfare and applying scientific advances - Why is it still so difficult?

UFAW International Symposium 2017
27th-29th June 2017

Royal Holloway, University of London, Surrey, UK

Animal welfare science is a relatively young field but it is developing rapidly. A recent review noted that over the last two decades the number of scientific publications in this area has increased by 10-15% annually. This research has been used to make many real improvements to the welfare of animals throughout the world.

There seems to be a growing consensus that what matters to those animals that are presumed to experience feelings, and therefore what should matter most to those concerned about animal welfare, is how those animals feel. However, this raises difficult questions, some of which are fundamental to the development of animal welfare science as a rigorous scientific discipline and the assessment of animal welfare. For example:

  • Will we ever be able to demonstrate sentience? Knowing where to draw the line about which animals to care for is important to, avoid wasting scarce resources on animals that are not sentient, and to ensure that animals that are sentient are protected. Are there new techniques that could help or is the problem insoluble? Where should the line be drawn?
  • Are the techniques that we have to study emotional state (affect) adequate or are there new and better ways of assessing how animals feel about themselves and their environment? How should we best choose and interpret measures? Do technological advances offer us alternative approaches? Is it worth trying to put a numerical value on animal welfare or are qualitative measures more appropriate?
  • How does time fit into the equation? Over what period of time should welfare be considered – what is meaningful and relevant to the animal? Do animals experience time as we do? How should we weigh up the challenges and good experiences to come so as to arrive at a view about the animals lifetime experience, and is this worth doing?
  • How important is positive welfare? Should preventing suffering be our first priority or should we now be looking to maximise enjoyable experiences for animals in our care too? Is a permanent state of positive welfare possible, or do animals reset their emotional state so that attempts to achieve positive welfare are doomed to failure as the animal habituates to a better than adequate environment? What happens when those experiences preferred by an animal have a long-term negative impact on health?
  • How robust is the data collected on animal welfare? Are there lessons to be learnt from other areas of research with respect to e.g. blinding, randomization, pre-registration of hypotheses, null results, meta-analysis, clinical trials?

With the aim of developing new ideas and of promoting higher quality and better-focused animal welfare science, this three day symposium will consider whether and how animal welfare scientists can make progress in these and other areas.

The symposium will feature both talks and poster presentations.

The following will present keynote talks:

  • Professor Georgia Mason (University of Guelph, Canada), ‘The welfare
    significance of abnormal repetitive behaviours‘
  • Professor Mike Mendl (University of Bristol, UK) ‘Animal affect: What is
    it, what do we know, and what can we know?’

Biographies and abstracts of keynote speakers can be found here.

You can download the symposium booklet, programme of speakers and list of posters here.

Symposium timetable

  • Deadline for submission of abstracts – 30th November 2016
  • Accommodation booking at Royal Holloway opens – 1st November 2016
  • Notification of decision of judging panel on submitted abstracts – by 1st February 2017
  • End of early registration fee – 1st March 2017
  • Deadline for receipt of amendments to accepted abstracts – 15th May 2017
  • Start of symposium 27thJune 2017. Registration is from 8.00am with the programme of talks starting at 9.10.
  • End of symposium 29th June 2017 – 3.30pm.


The symposium is being held in the Windsor Building Conference Centre, part of the campus at Royal Holloway, University of London over three days.

Royal Holloway is located in countryside close to Windsor and is a short train journey from central London and a fifteen minute drive on the M25 from Heathrow airport.

The symposium will feature a drinks reception on the evening of the 27th which will include a guided tour of The Founder’s Building Picture Gallery, which contains world-class paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and watercolours including works by William Powell Frith, John Everett Millais and Edward Burne-Jones, followed by a dinner.

On the evening of the 28th a BBQ will be held in the South Quadrangle of The Founder’s Building for all delegates.

More details on the venue, accommodation and how to get to it can be found here. 

Registration and accommodation details

The registration fee for the symposium is £450 (with a reduced rate of £395 available to delegates who register before 1st March 2017).

The registration fee includes attendance, lunch and refreshments over the three days and the drinks reception and dinner on the evening of 27th and a BBQ on the 28th.

Please contact to enquire about availability.

Accommodation is available on campus but has to be booked separately. Rooms start from £43.50 per night. Click on this link for further details and enter promotional code UFAW2017. Note: In the ‘Area’ field, select ‘Any Location’ to see the different room rates available.

Other details

The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), the international animal welfare science society, is a UK registered scientific and educational animal welfare charity. The organisation brings together the animal welfare science community, educators, veterinary surgeons and all concerned about animal welfare worldwide in order to achieve advances in the well-being of farm, companion, laboratory and captive wild animals, and for those animals with which we interact in the wild.

UFAW works to improve animals’ lives by:

  • Promoting and supporting developments in the science and technology that underpin advances in animal welfare.
  • Promoting and supporting education in animal care and welfare.
  • Providing information, organising symposia, conferences and meetings, and publishing books, videos, technical reports and the international quarterly peer-reviewed scientific journal Animal Welfare.
  • Providing expert advice to governments and other bodies and helping to draft and amend laws and guidelines.

UFAW is an independent organisation, and throughout its history its work has primarily been funded by donations, subscriptions and legacies.

Contact details

Stephen Wickens, Royal Holloway 2017, UFAW, The Old School, Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, AL4 8AN, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1582 831818; Fax: +44 (0) 1582 831414; Website:; Email: