Veterinary students join welfare assessment competition

Published on April 15, 2008
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Scenarios involving gestating sows, dogs in training, aquaculture systems, and livestock auctions challenged students during the annual Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging and Assessment Competition from March 15-16 at Michigan State University.

Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging and Assessment Competition
Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA
Animal Welfare Division, speaks during
the Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging
and Assessment Competition at Michigan
State University.

This year, for the first time, veterinary students participated in the event—underscoring the role of the veterinary profession in ensuring animal welfare. 

Organizers originally created the competition to help students in undergraduate animal science programs understand welfare issues in agricultural systems. Now in its seventh year, the event has expanded to cover many species. The MSU Animal Behavior and Welfare Group is the organizing body behind the competition.

Participants in the event assess scenarios relevant to animal welfare and then give oral presentations. This year's event challenged individual competitors to compare the welfare of gestating sows in crates and hoop housing, Huskies training as sled dogs and show dogs, and fish in offshore pens and inland raceways.

Team competition focused on livestock auctions. Teams selected a spokesperson to present a statement in response to an exposé on auction facilities by a hypothetical activist group. Teams also recommended improvements to a hypothetical auction facility.

"This competition helps teach students how to approach animal welfare issues comprehensively, objectively, and effectively," said Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division. "They learn very quickly that they have to pay attention to a multitude of factors—science, social expectations, and practical realities—if they want to be successful."

Dr. Golab helped coordinate the competition's veterinary division. The AVMA contributed funding to the event and provided travel grants for veterinary students. Four veterinary colleges participated in the competition this first year with students from Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island winning the individual and team veterinary categories.

The event also featured talks by experts from MSU, Purdue University, and the University of Alaska-Anchorage on ethical issues relevant to sow housing, the welfare of companion animals, and aquaculture. Dr. Steven L. Halstead, Michigan state veterinarian, spoke about the shutdown of horse slaughter in the United States and how exporting horses for slaughter leads to other welfare questions.

Camie Heleski, PhD, competition organizer and an instructor in the MSU Department of Animal Science, said interaction with welfare experts continues to be a focal point of the event for students.

"Having face time with them really offers students a unique perspective and a chance to learn about animal behavior, health, physiology, welfare, and ethics from the leading species experts in North America," Dr. Heleski said.

Additional information about the veterinary division of the competition is available by contacting Dr. Golab at (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6618, or ggolabatavma [dot] org.