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Science in the Service of Animal Welfare: Priorities around the world

water holeUFAW International Animal Welfare Science Symposium

4-5th July 2013,
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain 

The importance of science in elucidating and tackling animal welfare problems is increasingly recognised, but priorities, concerns and approaches vary between nations and cultures.

In July, over 160 delegates from 35 countries - including Brazil, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia - came together at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain to explore such issues and to discuss and identify how a scientific approach to animal welfare might be further encouraged in their countries. During the two days of the symposium, delegates listened to a range of talks and other contributions. Some outlined issues fundamental to the improvement of the welfare of animals – such as Professor Victoria Braithwaite’s (Pennsylvania State University, USA) talk on ‘The validity of parameters currently taken to be indicators of sentience’. Professor Braithwaite discussed how measures such as cognitive bias (in which how an animal feels - positive (optimistic) or negative (pessimistic) - influences their expectation of a reward in different situations), successive negative contrast (sensitivity to an unexpected downshift in reward value) and anhedonia (a reduced capacity to experience pleasure, e.g. a decreased intake of a reward) are being used to try to give us an insight as to whether animals have subjective awareness of their emotions (are conscious). Another such talk was Professor Christine Nicol’s (University of Bristol, UK) who, using chickens as an example, discussed how we might determine when the welfare of an animal is good enough for us to no longer need to be concerned about its welfare, and whether such a point exists. As part of this talk, she also touched on the increasingly debated concept of ‘positive welfare’

Practical issues of animal welfare were also addressed. Dr Marc Bracke (Wageningen UR, The Netherlands) presented his work on developing a method of pre-slaughter electrical stunning of commercially trawled fish, needed because some species have been found to be conscious for at least 2 hours post landing. Indeed, the welfare of fish was one of the themes of the meeting reflecting increasing awareness to their needs and their use in laboratories. The importance of education and promoting more humane alternatives was highlighted in several talks. Dr Zahir Shah (The Brooke, Pakistan) told the delegates how through working closely with the owners of working donkeys and other equids in Pakistan and through promoting a change in the type of ‘bit’ used (to that of a straight bar), clear improvements in the number and severity of lip lesions in these animals had been seen. Dr Jonathan Reynolds (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, UK) looked at the latest work in assessing the humanness of snares in fox control and also showed how improvements in the design of snares could address concerns raised. Such themes and many others were also raised in the many posters that were presented alongside the talks.

Full programme and abstracts of all presentations:
Can be viewed here

Finally, a workshop was held in which delegates discussed the needs of the international animal welfare science community and how UFAW might further support these.

We would like to thank all those who contributed to the meeting, through their talks or poster presentations, and who chaired the sessions and helped the symposium run so smoothly. We would also like to thank Professors Antonio Velarde (IRTA – Montells) and Xavier Manteca (UAB) and their students for so graciously hosting us and their assistance in manning the registration desk and answering the many questions that were poised of them. Finally, thanks are extended to all the staff of the Convention Centre and Hotel for their help.

Plans are already in hand for the next meeting but we would welcome suggestions or offers to host similar events in the future.