Tag Archives: Animal welfare

Stop the sheep trade in the northern summer, veterinarians say

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The live sheep trade has received a fresh blow, with the Australian Veterinary Association opposing voyages in the northern summer, between May and October.

The veterinarians’ stand prompted a call from the Western Australian government for the federal government to make a quick decision on the northern summer trade – already underway – “to ensure any pause can be properly managed”.

The government next week receives the report of the inquiry into the summer trade that it ordered after footage of appalling onboard conditions was shown on TV. Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has already flagged tougher penalties for breaches of regulations.

In Israel, a petition against live sheep shipments has been signed by 60 leading rabbis. The Times of Israel reported late last week that the petition says: “We were shocked to discover the harsh facts about the great suffering of calves and sheep, God’s creatures, sent by ships from Australia and Europe to be slaughtered in Israel”.

“The causing of such extreme suffering to animals solely to satisfy our desire for fresh meat is not the way of Torah, and it is not human morality to permit such harsh cruelty to animals.” The petition called for the shipments to end.

The Greens are discussing with the crossbench and Labor a private member’s bill for the phasing out of the trade over two years, which would be put to the Senate.

In a highly-detailed submission to the government review, the AVA says that irrespective of the stocking density on ships “sheep on live export voyages to the Middle East during May to October cannot be recommended.”

The submission of the AVA – the professional organisation representing veterinarians – evaluates the current science relating to the summer trade, looking at the core issues of space allocation and heat stress.

It says that while animal welfare science has advanced since the trade started “the current standards do not reflect these advances.

“Importantly, animal welfare science relates to the physical and mental state of an animal, and recognises that animals are sentient. Changes that are made should be based on ensuring both the physical and mental welfare needs of exported animals throughout the entire journey, and not solely restricted to addressing mortalities”, the submission says.

“In 2018, we know that ensuring good animal welfare means providing animals with all the elements required to ensure their health, physiological fitness and a sense of positive individual wellbeing.”

The submission recommends an increase in the space allocation for each animal of at least 30% for sheep weighing 40-60 kilograms – the weight range of the typical sheep sent to the Middle East. This is a much bigger increase than the industry has canvassed.

Meanwhile Labor, after announcing last week that in government it would phase out the trade, continues to refuse to say how long that would take. Federal agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said it would be “wrong for me to put a timeline on it”.

Fitzgibbon said he would still like to secure a bipartisan approach – even though the government last week condemned Labor’s phase out promise as reckless. “We want deep and meaningful reform, but we want reform that is not going to [be] overturned by a future government many years down the track,” Fitzgibbon told Sky.

The WA government’s position is that it doesn’t want sheep exports ended but believes it may not be possible for the northern summer trade to meet welfare standards.

The WA Agriculture Minister, Alannah MacTiernan, said the AVA “backs what our government has been saying for some time – that it may not be possible to keep exporting during the Middle East summer at anywhere near the same levels as we have previously.

“Industry will need time to prepare for a reduction or pause over those summer months – the federal government must announce its plans for the northern summer as soon as possible,” she said.

She said the WA government “will continue working with meat processors and talking to markets and governments in Kuwait and Qatar to ensure the best possible outcome for WA farmers”.

The ConversationLiberal backbencher Sussan Ley on Tuesday will give notice to the parliamentary clerks office of her intention to move a private member’s bill to phase out the trade. It would be introduced at the next private member’s bill time in the House of Representatives, which is on May 21. Ley on Monday was having talks with other MPs interested in the issue.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Greyhound racing ban: NSW is looking at the industry from the dogs’ point of view

The Conversation

Clive Phillips, The University of Queensland

Just as President John F. Kennedy famously implored Americans to ask what they might do for their country rather than vice versa, the New South Wales government’s decision to ban greyhound racing from July next year suggests an approach that asks not what animals can do for us, but what we can do for them.

Nor is NSW the only place looking at dog racing in this way. In the 55 years since JFK’s speech, 40 US states have banned greyhound racing, leaving only 19 dog tracks in six states still operating.

The principal reason for the NSW government’s decision is the high “wastage rate”. According to the special inquiry into the NSW industry, 50-70% of all greyhounds raised for racing are killed simply because they are too slow, meaning that at least half of the almost 98,000 dogs bred for racing over the past 12 years have been killed.

Reforming the industry was considered possible, but difficult, in relation to the live baiting scandal that engulfed Victorian racing in 2015. But the wastage of dogs that are too slow has become an integral part of the business model, rather than a rogue practice, and as such is much harder to tackle.

Similar problems exist in the racehorse industry, where the wastage rate is close to 40%. But the financial and political implications of a similar ban on horseracing are far more profound. There have already been suggestions of a class factor at play here, with the sport of kings protected while the “battlers’ sport” is banned.

Protecting ‘useless’ animals

Protection for animals that have outlived their useful purpose for humans is relatively rare in Western societies, but in Eastern religions it often features prominently. In India, cows that are too old to give milk are retired to shelters, where the public donate food and money to keep them in good health until they die. This principle is firmly embedded in the Hindu religion.

In contrast, the Christian and Muslim traditions hold that animals have been put on Earth solely for our benefit. For most scientists and philosophers this is a convenient interpretation of the scriptures but biologically absurd, especially when we consider the question of the killing of those that don’t suit our purpose or match up to arbitrarily defined standards.

Some will argue that (humanely) killing an animal does not affect its welfare, but most acknowledge that we have a moral imperative to provide animals with a life that is valued and sufficiently long to be worth living.

Western society is beginning to wake up to the massive wastage in its dairy industry, with male (bobby) calves routinely slaughtered at just a few days of age, and cows that rarely last more than two or three lactations in the herd being killed at about 5 years of age, when their natural lifespan is 25.

There are the rudiments of protection systems in Western society, for some animals at least. Regarded by the industry as “spent hens”, chickens are routinely condemned to an early death after just one season’s laying because they will be less productive in their second year. But charities are beginning to offer opportunities for members of the public to give homes to these hens. Similarly, the Donkey Sanctuary in the UK offers retirement to weary donkeys.

For many the recognition in Western society that animals are not just a commodity is too little, too late. The animal industries are intensifying at a rate never experienced before in response to growing demand, particularly in Asia. The financial pressure on greyhound trainers to increase their dogs’ speed to win more prize money is so great that they often don’t consider the ethics of what they are doing. Illegalising a cruel business is the only answer.

And how will the greyhounds be affected by this decision? There are concerns that the ban will lead to more deaths as trainers dump their obsolete dogs. Is rehoming an alternative to wastage? The extensive selection of the greyhound for speed makes them less than ideal as pets, and it seems unlikely that new homes can be found for all of NSW’s greyhounds.

Advocates will argue that the dogs love the sport. Admittedly there is something in dogs that makes them chase objects that run in front of them, and many dogs will do it until they are exhausted. It’s in their genetic makeup, as over the millennia of evolution those that could do this would have had an advantage. But it is the associated treatment of the dogs as commodities that makes this sport unacceptable in today’s society.

Beyond reform?

The other reason for the NSW government’s decision is that the industry was deemed to be inherently corrupt and beyond reform, as detailed by Justice Michael McHugh’s report on the industry. This is a sad reflection of how the government/industry partnership model of managing our animal industries has failed to inspire confidence.

The ACT has also announced a ban, although other states seem unlikely to follow suit, citing the profit generated by the industry or the high costs of compensating those involved.

The Victorian government believes it can reform its industry in the wake of the live baiting scandal, but the Australian federal government has repeatedly claimed to be able to do this with livestock export and still the exposés of cruelty keep coming.

Asking what we can do for the greyhounds that have been exploited in this way is just the first step in repairing a damaged sense of trust that man’s best friend so faithfully placed in us.

The ConversationClive Phillips, Professor of Animal Welfare, Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.
 

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What other industries can learn from the failures of greyhound racing

The Conversation

Roger Burritt, University of Kassel and Katherine Christ, University of South Australia

Those in the greyhound racing industry were surprised by the Premier of NSW’s announcement on the banning of the industry in NSW from 1 July 2017, closely followed in the ACT.

But the writing has been on the wall since the NSW Special Commission of Enquiry found systematic malpractice and animal cruelty, described by the Premier as “chilling, confronting, horrific”. The industry ignored the warning signs of the public turning against the sport and now the question is what can other industries learn from the greyhound racing industry losing its social licence.

Self-regulation has flaws

Business needs to recognise that when it’s granted the right to operate, it also has to accept the responsibilities of acting in a sustainable and humane way. Different industries have varied levels of government intervention and control of their activities.

The greyhound industry in Australia is self-regulating. The industry promises to abide by animal welfare standards rather than be subject to regulation which directly monitors and enforces standards.

Penalties can be imposed for using live animals as bait or a lure for the purpose of training dogs under state Prevention of Cruelty to Animals legislation. In NSW the maximum penalty in the case of an individual is A$22,000 or imprisonment for two years (or both), and $110,000 in the case of a corporation. There are similar penalties in Victoria and Queensland.

Members of the industry argue that they need more time to adjust behaviour away from the poor practices, but clearly the mindset of those prepared to chance their arm has not changed.

Greyhound racing relies on good behaviour from its members when seeking continuous approval for ongoing operations. In the case of greyhound racing in NSW, all acknowledge that self-regulation failed.

Other industries associated with gambling on performance of animals, such as horse racing and harness racing, face similar dilemmas. When some industry members act in unacceptable ways, as has happened in the case of greyhound racing, the impact spreads to all other members of the industry, however well-meaning those members are.

The Special Commission of Enquiry in NSW discovered ongoing programs of live baiting of greyhounds to get them to perform better, multiple deaths of racing dogs on track and mass slaughter of between 48,000 and 68,000 dogs in NSW. Such persistent unacceptable behaviour meant that in the eyes of the government acting on behalf of society self-regulation had failed the public interest.

Improve business models

A second issue is that the greyhound racing industry adopted a business model which has become out of touch with public thinking on animal cruelty.

A social licence is when local communities, employees and customers approve of a business’ practices. In the case of greyhound racing, industry approval might be related to a code of practice on animal cruelty, monitoring whether there are breaches of the code and enforcement of any penalties in the case of a breach.

Greyhounds have been treated as products of the racing industry and when the products failed to make money, they were disposed of en masse as waste products, instead of in a humane way acceptable to society, such as through adoption programs.

Other similar industries can avoid this mistake. Industries can think about how to best maintain their legitimacy to operate in the long run, by considering all aspects of their products or services through its life cycles.

This means considering the relevant costs – social, environmental and economic – from the acquisition of materials and inputs, to the end of life of products. Investors can also be mindful of all these aspects of the business in which they operate, and only accept ethical practices.

The live cattle trade provides a case in point. All business stopped when Australia negotiated for better regulation in Indonesia of inhumane treatment of cattle. The industry has recently been questioned again, in relation to inhumane treatment in Vietnamese abattoirs. Many more of these examples and the trade could be another industry set to lose its license to operate.

Given the growing public concern to reduce blatant animal cruelty as illustrated in these two industries, other industries need to show leadership, develop strategies and prepare themselves for such challenges to their legitimacy and social license to operate.

How can industry restore its social license?

Granting of social license to operate is subject to challenge at any time, especially with the advent of social media and rapid communication of bad news.

It’s getting harder and harder to cover up malpractices. Loss of licence in the NSW greyhound industry means about 15,000 participants, 10,000 employees, and contractors for transportation, food supplies and kennels will lose their livelihoods, according to Brenton Scott, CEO of the NSW Greyhound Breeders, Owners & Trainers Association.

Some will switch in the short term to other states resisting closure but astute members will observe what is happening elsewhere. For example, in vast majority of states the US, greyhound racing has been outlawed and this could be a lead indicator of the challenges ahead in Australia.

Meaningful engagement with the parties on which the industry relies for survival, such as customers and employees, is another way forward. For example, those caring for humane treatment of animals in Victoria once supported the opportunity for industry improvement but there is a turn now to resist any attempts to restore greyhound racing, and a push for national closure.

Business needs to take heed of the concerns and warnings of the key parties they rely on if they are to survive, before the opportunity to improve known poor practices has slipped away.

All business needs to consider what has happened with the “surprise” closure of greyhound racing in NSW and develop strategies to ensure they are resilient to shocks and do not get caught out by poor behaviour of some members.

The ConversationRoger Burritt, Visiting professor, Management in the International Food Industry, University of Kassel and Katherine Christ, Researcher and Tutor in Accounting and Sustainability, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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When is it ethical to euthanize your pet?

The Conversation

Bernard Rollin, Colorado State University

In the 1960s, I knew people who, before going on vacation, would take their dogs to a shelter to be euthanized. They reasoned that it was cheaper to have a dog euthanized – and buy a new one upon returning – than pay a kennel fee.

Two decades later, I was working at Colorado State’s veterinary hospital when a group of distraught bikers on Harley-Davidsons pulled up carrying a sick chihuahua. The dog was intractably ill, and required euthanasia to prevent further suffering. Afterwards, the hospital’s counselors felt compelled to find the bikers a motel room: their level of grief was so profound that the staff didn’t think it was safe for them to be riding their motorcycles.

These two stories illustrate the drastic change in how animals have been perceived. For thousands of years, humans have kept animals as pets. But only during the past 40 years have they come to be viewed as family.

While it’s certainly a positive development that animals are being treated humanely, one of the downsides to better treatment mirrors some of the problems the (human) health care system faces with end-of-life care.

As with humans, in many cases the lives of pets are needlessly prolonged, which can cause undue suffering for the animals and an increased financial burden for families.

The growth of veterinary medicine and ethics

In 1979, I began teaching veterinary medical ethics at Colorado State University’s veterinary school, the first such course ever taught anywhere in the world.

A year later, the veterinary school hired an oncologist to head up a new program on animal oncology. Soon, our clinic was applying human therapeutic modalities to animal cancer. The visionary head of the veterinary program also hired a number of counselors to help pet owners manage their grief – another first in veterinary circles.

I’d been under the impression that people would be reluctant to spend much money on animal treatments, so I was genuinely shocked when the following April, the Wall Street Journal reported individuals spending upwards of six figures on cancer treatments for their pets.

As a strong advocate for strengthening concern for animal welfare in society, I was delighted with this unprecedented turn of events. I soon learned that concern for treating the diseases of pets besides cancer had also spiked precipitously, evidenced by a significant increase in veterinary specialty practices.

One of the family

So what’s behind the shift in how pets are perceived and treated?

For one, surveys conducted over the last two decades indicate an increasing number of pet owners who profess to view their animals as “members of the family.” In some surveys, the number is as high as 95% of respondents, but in nearly all surveys the number is higher than 80%.

In addition, the breakdown of nuclear families and the uptick of divorce rates have contributed to singles forming tighter bonds with companion animals.

Such attitudes and trends are likely to engender profound changes in societal views of euthanasia. Whereas before, many owners didn’t think twice about putting down a pet, now many are hesitant to euthanize, often going to great lengths to keep sick animals alive.

Vets caught in the middle

However, veterinarians continue to experience extensive stress as they experience two opposite – but equally trying – dilemmas: ending an animal’s life too soon, or waiting too long.

In a paper that I published entitled Euthanasia and Moral Stress, I described the significant stress experienced by veterinarians, veterinary technicians and humane society workers. Many chose their profession out of a desire to improve the lot of animals; instead, they invariably ended up euthanizing large numbers of them, often for unethical reasons.

These ranged from “I got the dog to jog with me, and now it’s too old to run,” to “If I die, I want you to euthanize the animal because I know it can’t bear to live without me.”

In other cases, the animal is experiencing considerable suffering, but the owner is unwilling to let the animal go. With owners increasingly viewing pets as family members, this has become increasingly common, and many owners fear the guilt associated with killing an animal too soon.

Ironically this, too, can cause veterinarians undue trauma: they know the animal is suffering, but there’s nothing they can do about it unless the owner gives them permission.

The consequences are manifest. One recent study showed that one in six veterinarians has considered suicide. Another found an elevated risk of suicide in the field of veterinary medicine. Being asked to kill healthy animals for owner convenience doubtless is a major contribution.

How to manage the decision to euthanize

Here is my suggestion to anyone who is thinking about getting a pet: when you first acquire it, create a list of everything you can find that makes the animal happy (eating a treat, chasing a ball, etc). Put the list away until the animal is undergoing treatment for a terminal disease, such as cancer. At that point, return to the list: is the animal able to chase a ball? Does the animal get excited about receiving a treat?

If the animal has lost the ability to have positive experiences, it’s often easier to let go.

This strategy can be augmented by pointing out the differences between human and animal consciousness. As philosopher Martin Heidegger has pointed out, for humans much of life’s meaning is derived from balancing past experiences with future aspirations, such as wishing to see one’s children graduate or hoping to see Ireland again.

Animals, on the other hand, lack the linguistic tools to allow them to anticipate the future or create an internal narrative of the past. Instead, they live overwhelmingly in the present. So if a pet owner is reluctant to euthanize, I’ll often point out that the animal no longer experiences pleasant “nows.”

In the end, managing euthanasia represents a major complication of the augmented status of pets in society. Ideally, companion animal owners should maintain a good relationship with their general veterinary practitioner, who has often known the animal all of its life, and can serve as a partner in dialogue during the trying times when euthanasia emerges as a possible alternative to suffering.

The ConversationBernard Rollin is Professor of Philosophy, Animal Sciences and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Do animals feel pain like we do?

The Conversation

Andrea Nolan, Edinburgh Napier University

Pain is a complex experience involving sensory and emotional components: it is not just about how it feels, but also how it makes you feel. And it is these unpleasant feelings that cause the suffering we humans associate with pain.

The science of suffering is well documented in the book of the same name by Patrick Wall. We know that animals certainly feel physical pain, but what is less clear is whether this emotional suffering that we feel can be said to be true of animals. And if it is, how we go about measuring it.

As a subjective emotion, pain can be experienced even in the absence of physical tissue damage, and the level of feeling can be modified by other emotions including fear, memory and stress. Pain also has different dimensions – it is often described in terms of intensity but it also has “character”, for example the pain of a pin-prick is very different from that of a toothache, a slipped disc or labour pain. Nearly all of us have experienced pain in our lives, but for each person, the experience is uniquely individual.

To understand or appreciate others’ pain we mostly rely on what they report. But there are many who either cannot communicate their pain verbally, babies for example, or effectively, like those with dementia or learning disabilities. In these situations, others must use a range of factors to judge the presence of pain and its impact on the individual.

Pain is not all bad – it serves a protective function, to keep us away from further danger, to help us heal, for example by stopping us from putting weight on a sprained ankle. But if it isn’t managed effectively it can have a major negative impact on our lives inducing fear, anger, anxiety or depression – all emotions which may in turn exacerbate it. And chronic pain is a major concern to millions of individuals and to our societies around the world.

Pain in animals

The nature of pain is perhaps even more complex in animals. How pain is sensed and the physical processes behind this are remarkably similar and well conserved across mammals and humans. There are also many similarities in pain behaviours across the species, for example they may stop socialising with people and/or other animals, they may eat less, they may vocalise more and their heart rate may rise. The capacity of animals to suffer as sentient creatures is well established and enshrined in law in many countries, however we don’t understand well how they actually experience pain.

Some aspects of the experience and expression of pain are not likely to be the same as in humans. First, animals cannot verbally communicate their pain. Dogs may yelp and you may notice behaviour change but what about your pet rabbit, cat, tortoise or horse? Animals rely on human observers to recognise pain and to evaluate its severity and impact. Without the ability to understand soothing words that explain that following surgery to repair a bone fracture, their pain will be managed (hopefully) and will subside, animals may also suffer more when in pain than we do.

Loud and clear. William Heron, CC BY-SA

The debate around animals’ capacity to experience pain and suffer raged in the 20th century, but as we developed a greater understanding of pain, and studied its impact on the aspects of animal life that we could measure, we veterinary surgeons, along with many behavioural and animal scientists, recognised the significant impact of untreated pain, and we now believe this experience causes them to suffer.

For example, we know that animals and indeed birds with clinical signs of pain (limping) will choose to eat food containing pain-killing drugs (analgesics) over untreated food, and by measures of behaviour, they will improve.

Similarly many studies in a range of domestic animals have indicated that animals who have had surgery but not had adequate pain relief demonstrate behaviours reflective of pain which are alleviated when they are treated with analgesics such as morphine.

We also know that it is not just our dogs and cats that can suffer pain – there is an equally strong evidence base for the presence and negative impact of pain in sheep, cattle, pigs and horses among other species. But recognising pain in these different species is part of the complexity associated with animal pain. Managing it in animals that we rear for food and those that we keep as companions is equally challenging.

Behavioural disturbances have long been recognised as potential indicators of the presence of pain in animals. However it is important to recognise that each species manifests its own sometimes unique pain-related behaviours or behavioural disturbances in different ways, often rooted in the evolutionary process, so prey species, for example, are less likely to “advertise” an increased vulnerability to predators. Dogs may become aggressive, or quiet, or may stop socialising with “their” humans and other dogs. Sheep, on the other hand, may appear largely the same when casually observed.

Some expressions of pain however may be conserved. A recent paper suggested commonality in some features of facial expression during acute pain experiences in several animal species and humans.

These findings and much other work are being incorporated into tools to evaluate animal pain, because in the words of Lord Kelvin, the great Glaswegian scientist behind the Kelvin temperature scale, said: “When you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in number … you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be”.

So in order to treat and manage pain effectively we must measure it.

And there is a huge demand for these tools. The Glasgow Composite Pain Scale, a simple tool to measure acute pain in dogs and
first published in 2007, has been translated into six languages. It is used in veterinary practices to measure pain to treat it effectively. It has also been used to evaluate the effectiveness of new analgesic drugs that are being developed by animal health companies. Tools to measure the impact of chronic pain, such as osteoarthritis, on the quality of life of dogs are now available and are a significant advance in managing chronic conditions.

There is now a global effort to raise awareness of pain in animals. Recently the World Small Animal Veterinary Association launched the Global Pain Council and published a treatise for vets and animal keepers worldwide to promote pain recognition, measurement and treatment. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but for all those who work with, care for and enjoy the company of animals, understanding how their pain feels is essential to improving the quality of their lives.

The ConversationAndrea Nolan is Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Edinburgh Napier University .

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Why fish (likely) don’t feel pain

Scientia Salon

school-of-butterfly-fishby Brian Key

What’s it feel like to be a fish? I contend that it doesn’t feel like anything to be a fish.  Interestingly, much of our own lives are led without attending to how we feel. We just get on with it and do things. Most of the time we act like automatons. We manage to get dressed in the morning, or walk to the bus station, or get in the car and drive to the shops without thinking about what it feels like. Consequently, much of what we do is accomplished non-consciously.

There is an enormous amount of neural processing of information in the brain that never reaches our consciousness (that is, we never become aware of it and hence are unable to report it). I propose that fish spend all of their lives without ever feeling anything. In a recent paper in the academic journal Biology &…

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Ten Animal Welfare Myths

by Tim Harding, B.Sc.

(An edited version of this essay was published in The Skeptic magazine, June 2014, Vol 34 No 2, under the title ‘Creature Features’. The essay is based on a talk presented to the Mordi Skeptics in February 2012).

The term ‘animal welfare’ is not easy to define, but it usually includes the mental and physical aspects of an animal’s well-being, as well as people’s subjective ethical preferences as to how animals should be treated.  These preferences can give rise to a range of opinions about animal welfare; but as we skeptics are fond of saying: ‘people are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts’.

I realise that this article may be controversial, even amongst my fellow skeptics.  Nevertheless, I would like to focus on some common factual misunderstandings about animal welfare; and try to dispel a few myths.

There appear to be two extreme polarised positions in the community regarding animal welfare.  An outdated view, often attributed to Rene Descartes (1596 –1650 CE), is that animals are not consciously aware, and are therefore unable to experience pain and suffering.  At the opposite pole are those who believe that animals have rights like humans do; and that hunting, farming and other uses of animals for human purposes are morally unacceptable.  Between these two extremes are various other views, including evidence-based or scientific approaches versus the so-called ‘organic’ or free-range farming industries.

Animal welfare science is a relatively new field of study; but some good research is now being done – including in Australia.  The two main experimental approaches are firstly, animal physiological and biochemical testing (e.g. blood tests) to objectively measure stress in animals under different conditions; and secondly, animal behavioural and preference studies (such as testing whether animals prefer more food or better surroundings).

Myth #1: Animals are best treated like humans

The attribution of human characteristics to non-human animals is known as anthropomorphism.  It is sometimes used to appeal to human emotions in campaign slogans about animal welfare (e.g. ‘Meat is murder!’ and ‘How would YOU like to be kept in a cage?’).

There are two main problems with an anthropomorphic approach to animal welfare. Firstly, it is emotional rather than evidence-based – and is therefore unscientific or lacking in objectivity.  Secondly, treating animals like humans is often a projection of human preferences rather than a consideration of the real needs of the animal.  Apart from the obvious differences in intelligence, anatomy and physiology, animals have different instincts to humans and they express a much more limited range of emotions than humans do.

Most of us love our pets and regard them as members of the family.  But treating them like little humans may not actually be in their best interests.  For instance, most of us are aware that chocolate is poisonous to dogs, but we may not be as aware that onions, garlic, grapes, avocados and macadamia nuts are also toxic to canine animals.[1]  Many dogs are also lactose intolerant, so dairy products are not a good idea for them either.[2]  So we should be careful about feeding human leftovers to dogs.

Myth #2: Dogs are tame wolves

Our treatment of dogs has been shaped by a historical view that they are basically wolves with nicer table manners. This is the concept behind much of traditional dog training – that dogs are pack animals competing with humans for dominance over the family.  This outdated view is now being challenged by modern canine science.[3]

All dogs are different varieties of one species descended from wolves.  Archaeological evidence now shows that dogs were first domesticated over 20,000 years ago – long before the first human settlements (around 9000BCE) and while we were still hunter-gatherers.  Dogs used to follow human hunters and scavenge from our leftovers.  We may have even used dogs to assist in our hunting.

Over this quite long period, dogs have been selected by humans for their mental temperaments as much as their physical characteristics.  As a result, modern pet dog breeds often bond more closely with humans than with other dogs.  It can therefore be bad welfare to deprive pet dogs (not farm dogs) of human contact for extended periods.

Myth #3: Some dog breeds bite humans more than others

Statistical research by the Victorian Bureau of Animal Welfare (BAW) has shown that the major contributing factor to dog attacks in urban public places is the inadequate confinement of dogs to their property, rather than the breed of dog.  Most incidents occur on the footpath or road bordering the dog owner’s property, as a result of dogs displaying territorial aggression toward people passing by or attempting to access the front door.  If owners ensured their dogs were adequately confined to the house or back yard, over 80% of dog attack incidents in public places could be prevented.[4]

The BAW studies have not shown that ‘restricted breed dogs’ (i.e. dogs bred for fighting) are excessively represented in the incidence of dog attacks on humans.  Any dog can bite if sufficiently provoked.  However, because of the relative strength of fighting dogs and their habit of tenaciously gripping their victims with their teeth and shaking them, anecdotal evidence suggests that the risks of injury and death may be greater from these types of dogs if and when they do attack humans.

Myth #4: Feeding stray cats is being kind

A survey by Monash University in 2005 found that 22 per cent of people said they sometimes fed a cat that did not belong to them.[5]  People may feel they are being kind because they know that stray cats suffer from starvation, disease and injuries from fights with other cats. But because they are ‘unowned’, stray cats are deprived of the regular meals, shelter, grooming and veterinary care that owned cats receive.  Feeding stray cats provides people with a short-term ‘feel good factor’ that acts against the long-term welfare of the cats.  It is a form of preference failure. Being a stray cat is not a sustainable lifestyle, with an average life-expectancy of only 3 years.  So feeding them actually perpetuates the misery of these poor animals (and their kittens), which on a rational basis should either be adopted as pets or euthanased.

An adverse side-effect is that stray cats are also more likely to kill birds, possums and other native animals than owned cats, at least some of which are kept indoors overnight.  The kindest thing to do for a stray cat would be to ‘adopt’ it (but have it checked for a microchip by a vet first).  If this is not possible, contact an animal welfare organisation such as the RSPCA or the Cat Protection Society.

Myth #5: Livestock are slaughtered inhumanely in Australia

Slaughter standards in Australian abattoirs are dictated by the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption (AS 4696 — 2007), which requires that:

1. Animals are slaughtered in a way that prevents unnecessary injury, pain and suffering to them and causes them the least practicable disturbance; and.

2. Before killing commences, animals are stunned in a way that ensures that the animals are unconscious and insensible to pain beforehand, and do not regain consciousness or sensibility before dying.[6]

There is provision for a religious exemption under an approved arrangement that allows ritual slaughter involving the commencement of killing without prior stunning.  However, such animals must then be stunned without delay to ensure that they are rendered unconscious whilst dying.  Personally, I am opposed to such religious exemptions, on the grounds of cruelty.

Myth #6: Meat chickens are kept in cages

Many people are surprised to learn that no meat chickens (also known as broilers) are kept in cages, at least in Australia.  They are farmed in large ventilated barns or sheds where they are free to roam large distances, albeit under crowded conditions, as shown in the photograph below.  Traditionally, this has not been done for welfare reasons but to allow faster and easier collection for processing, which is usually done at night.

An RSPCA approved Australian meat chicken shed

An RSPCA approved Australian meat chicken shed

In Australia, feed lines and pans run the length of the shed and are supplied automatically by silos from outside. Water lines run the length of the shed, with drinkers at regular intervals. Water and feed are placed so that chickens are never more than about 2 metres from food and water.

Myth #7: Free range chooks live mainly outdoors

Chickens naturally prefer to live under cover from predators and bad weather. In the wild, they forage for insects and other food beneath shrubs and undergrowth, only venturing out into the open for short periods of time.

Free range chickens preferring shade (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Free range chickens preferring shade (source: Wikimedia Commons)

There are no government regulations about free-range farming practices – this is left to industry self-regulation.  Australian industry standards specify that free-range chickens only need free access to the outdoors – they don’t actually need to spend any time outside a shed to qualify as free-range.  As a result, free-range chickens don’t usually spend the bulk of their time in the open, as illustrated by the photograph above. Some free-range farms have sheds on wheels or other movable housing structures.

Myth #8: Pigs are permanently kept in sow stalls

This claim is often made by animal rights activists but is untrue.  The reason for confinement in sow stalls (gestation stalls) is to minimise early abortions as a result of stress from aggressive behaviour between adult female pigs (sows).[7]

The endorsed Australian national standards for pig farming specify a maximum confinement period of 6 weeks during the initial stages of pregnancy.  Parts of the pork industry are voluntarily introducing shorter periods, but these will require more supervision (and thus higher labour costs) to separate sows that fight.

There is also some public confusion between gestation stalls and farrowing crates, especially when photographs of the latter (see below) are described as the former.

Sow farrowing crate (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sow farrowing crate (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sows are moved in groups to farrowing sheds approximately one week prior to giving birth.  In Australia, a farrowing crate is only used for piglet feeding purposes.  It allows the sow less movement than a gestation stall, but provides creep areas along either side for the piglets. Adjustable rails alongside the sow slow her movement when she is lying down, thus protecting piglets from being crushed.  As soon as the piglets are weaned, the sow is moved to either a much larger pen or outdoors.

Myth #9: Sheep mulesing is cruel and unnecessary

Mulesing is the removal of wrinkled skin from the breech or breech and tail of a sheep using mulesing shears.  Until accepted alternatives are developed and the current practice can be phased out, mulesing of lambs remains an important husbandry practice in Australia for animal health, welfare and management reasons.  The principal reason is to reduce urine and faecal soiling or dag formation in the breech and tail wool; and thus minimise susceptibility to even more painful breech and tail flystrike.

Currently, cost effective chemical, management and breeding solutions are not available for all types of production systems in Australia and mulesing is a valuable tool for the prevention of breech flystrike for certain production environments and sheep types.  Although potentially painful, mulesing can be a net welfare benefit.

Available scientific research suggests that it is possible to achieve pain relief in conjunction with mulesing. Pain relief is most effectively achieved through a combination of approaches such as the pre-mulesing administration of a systemic pain relief drug, followed by a post-mulesing application of topical anaesthetic to deal with the ensuing period of pain associated with the inflammatory phase.  That is to say, a combination of short and long-acting pain relief drugs may be needed to provide more complete pain relief.[8]

Myth #10: Fish can’t feel pain

The International Association for the Study of Pain’s widely used definition states: ‘Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage’.[9]  Unlike in humans, pain is difficult to observe and measure in fish, especially in the absence of tissue damage.

Even when pain avoidance is observed experimentally in fish, a possible explanation is that it is a conditioned response to stimuli without the adverse emotional experience necessary for suffering.  Because of these observational difficulties, the conclusion that fish experience pain is often inferred on the basis of comparative neural anatomy and physiology. Some scientists are currently of the view that all higher vertebrates feel pain; and that certain invertebrates, like the lobster and octopus, might too.

The current approach in Australian animal welfare regulation is to give the fish the benefit of the doubt, and to presume until further research that fish can feel pain.  Whilst painless fishing may be almost impossible to achieve, banning fishing would also be politically impossible in a democracy.  The current regulatory approach is to minimise pain by requiring fish to be either killed or released as soon as possible after capture.

Conclusion

It may come as no surprise that I support the current scientific approach to animal welfare rather than an anthropomorphic or animal rights approach.  My main reasons for this view are:

  • Evidence-based animal welfare standards are being progressively adopted by Australian governments.
  • Such standards are more likely to be enforced and complied with than other approaches.
  • As a result, animal welfare is steadily improving in Australia.
  • This approach maintains the competitiveness of Australian agriculture.

Tim Harding B.Sc. has worked for the last 13 years as a regulatory consultant, amongst other things evaluating state and national animal welfare regulations for both domestic animals and livestock.  

References: 

[1] Warren, Katrina.  DrKatrina.com web site.

[2] Pet MD web site. Dietary Reactions in Dogs.

[3] Bradshaw, John (2011) In Defence of Dogs. Penguin Books, London.

[4] Harding, Tim (2005)  Proposed Domestic (Feral And Nuisance) Animals Regulations 2005 – Regulatory Impact Statement. Department of Primary Industries, Attwood.

[5]  http://www.theage.com.au/environment/animals/citys-stray-cat-problem-has-melbourne-throwing-a-hissy-fit-20130610-2o07j.html

[6] Browne, Gavin  (2007)  Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption (AS 4696 — 2007). Food Regulation Standing Committee Technical Report Series 3.  CSIRO PUBLISHING / Food Regulation Standing Committee, Collingwood.

[7] Harding, Tim and Rivers, George (2006) Proposed Model Code Of Practice For The Welfare Of Animals – Pigs: Regulatory Impact Statement. CSIRO PUBLISHING, Collingwood.

[8] Harding, Tim and Rivers, George (2013) Proposed Australian Animal Welfare Standards And Guidelines – Sheep: Consultation Regulation Impact Statement. Animal Health Australia, Canberra.

[9] Bonica, John (1979) The need of a taxonomy. Pain. 1979; 6(3): 247–8.

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