Symposium brings together leaders in animal welfare

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The AVMA and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges co-sponsored a unique educational event Nov. 8-11, 2009, at Michigan State University.

The symposium, titled "Swimming with the Tide," focused on animal welfare in veterinary medical education and research.

Dr. Bayvel
Dr. David Bayvel

For two-and-a-half days, an international slate of veterinarians and animal scientists explained how animal welfare decisions in the U.S. and around the world are informed by science, ethics, public perception, and even the words used to express why we treat animals the way we do.

Offering insights on how foreign and international regulating bodies handle animal welfare standards were Dr. David Bayvel, chair of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) animal welfare working group; Dr. Peter Thornber, manager of animal welfare strategy and communications for the Australian government; and Dr. Laurence Bonafos, an animal welfare policy adviser to the Directorate-General Health and Consumers of the European Commission.

Approximately 225 people attended the symposium, including several veterinary and agriculture students. According to AAVMC Executive Director Marguerite Pappaioanou, student participation was especially important, because "leadership in animal welfare will come from you."

With animal welfare practices increasingly debated and decided in the public arena, informed leadership is desperately needed.

Veterinarians long took for granted that society thought of them as the chief advocates for animal interests. Animal protection groups have risen up to challenge that long-held assumption, however, and now the profession is struggling to speak with a unified voice on complex and often emotional issues.

Jeffrey Armstrong, PhD, dean of the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, described the difficulties associated with debating animal welfare issues in today's climate: "Many groups try to take something that is very complicated and needs to be viewed in a holistic manner and try boiling it down to a bumper sticker or 30-second sound bite."

AVMA President Larry R. Corry's wish for the symposium was that it would confront "settled truths" within the veterinary community, spark discussion, and teach attendees how to effectively communicate with the public.

One reason for the symposium, in addition to greater consideration for animal interests, was to "regain the status we once held as leaders in animal welfare," Dr. Corry said.

On the following pages are summaries of some of the speaker presentations. Many were videorecorded and will be posted on the AVMA Web site at a later date. In addition, papers from the symposium will be published in a future issue of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.