AVMA moving forward on animal welfare

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The AVMA is working to become proactive rather than reactive in the field of animal welfare, said Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division.

Dr. Golab
Dr. Gail C. Golab

Dr. Golab spoke at the AVMA Annual Convention during the Ethics track about "Moving Along the Welfare Curve With the AVMA." She noted that the AVMA recently identified animal welfare as one of five critical issues for the Association and the veterinary profession.  

The accompanying strategic goal is for the Association to be "a leading advocate for, and an authoritative, science-based resource on animal welfare."

The AVMA believes the responsible use of animals for human purposes is consistent with the Veterinarian's Oath, Dr. Golab said. She went on to say that good welfare involves satisfying animals' needs.

Dr. Golab presented a welfare curve that charted return on investment in welfare improvements against satisfaction of animal needs. Up to a point, humans and animals both enjoy obvious benefits. After that point, humans may receive a less easily quantifiable return on their investment, whereas animal welfare continues to improve.

The turning point on the welfare curve is the moral minimum for improvements, which humans have a duty to provide, Dr. Golab said. Moving beyond that point brings people to moral progressivism and moral leadership in animal welfare.

Dr. Golab then described the AVMA approach to developing policies on specific welfare issues. She said issues can come to the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee from all sorts of sources, including individual AVMA members.

"We're willing to listen," Dr. Golab said. "It's just a question of you bringing the issue to us."

The AWC management subcommittee prioritizes the issues by considering relevance to veterinary medicine, numbers of animals and humans that an issue impacts, nature of the impact, scientific information available on the subject, and the urgency of the issue.

The management subcommittee then assigns the issue to a topic subcommittee, which consults with stakeholders and requests background research from the staff in the AVMA Animal Welfare Division. The topic subcommittee recommends a policy or action to the full committee, which may forward the policy or action to the Executive Board for consideration.

Organizational members of the AVMA House of Delegates or petitioners who are AVMA members also can submit resolutions on welfare issues to the HOD.

Dr. Golab said the AVMA generally prefers practical policies that recommend voluntary, incremental improvements to animal welfare. Such improvements can reduce resistance to change and are easier to adjust if they don't work well.

Dr. Golab referred the audience to a new section of the AVMA Web site that focuses on animal welfare. The site offers policies, backgrounders, and other resources.

"I think AVMA at this point is very open to discussion," Dr. Golab said. "If you don't like what's happening, get in there and change it. You have lots of opportunities to do so."