Reflecting on ANZCVS Science Week 2017

I have already written a blog post about the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (ANZCVS) Membership exams. The oral examinations (membership & fellowship) are sat by candidates each year on the Gold Coast in Australia. After the exams, there is a conference to complete the veterinary ‘Science Week’. Each chapter within the college has its own stream of presentations. Veterinarians and scientists are invited to attend and present.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to present to the welfare chapter this year. The theme was ‘One Welfare – key drivers and new technologies’. The One Welfare concept is like that of One Health; interdisciplinary collaboration and solutions are important. #OneWelfare recognises the interconnections between animal and human wellbeing and the environment. Here I will summarise the presentations in the animal welfare chapter.

My lanyard

The first two speakers were asked to provide updates after attending conferences. Amy Little from the Australian Government spoke to us about the OIE global conference in Mexico, while Anne Fawcett of Small Animal Talk regaled us with stories of different coloured glitter in the faeces of polar bears in Canada – something she saw while attending the inaugural international One Welfare conference. Anne also emphasised the need to remember the conservation focus of One Welfare. For them to be truly interdisciplinary, ecologists and geographers should be invited to speak at these conferences. She also reminded us of the One Welfare portal and showed us how the Chatterbox tool can be used in teaching: to explore ethical questions.

My presentation was on the first day within the ‘companion animal’ section. It was based on my PhD project that explores end-of-life decision-making in owners of older and chronically ill cats and their vets. I was excited to present my research and preliminary findings to vets, animal welfare scientists, and others in attendance. Mags Awad (of PetSure, formerly with RSPCA Australia) also gave an excellent presentation on shelter welfare assessment and how it relates to One Welfare. Mags spoke about the ‘No Kill’ shelter movement and what it means for animals. There is the potential for animals to be kept alive when their welfare is compromised (e.g. with severe behavioural/anxiety issues). She spoke about the ‘Drives for Lives’ project, where animals are moved from an area in a state where there is an oversupply of animals to one where more are needed for adoption. Mags reminded us that the shelter environment is novel for many animals and that there is a need to remove fear and anxiety. Improving cat housing in shelters has the greatest impact on their wellbeing.

In the afternoon, Nat Waran from EIT in the Hawkes Bay told us what One Welfare means to her. If the people in developing countries are not enjoying good welfare, then how can we/they focus on companion animal welfare? She emphasised the need to make animal welfare relevant to people that may not be thinking about it. Becky Murphy from Dogs NZ (formerly The New Zealand Kennel Club) completed the companion animal section by talking about ethical breeding standards. Becky has the difficult task of working as the canine health and welfare officer for an organisation in the spotlight for (un)ethical breeding standards. The 2008 ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’ exposé and the 2010 Bateson Report rocked the pedigree dog world by emphasising how selective breeding has changed the shape of breeds: features are exaggerated to the point of threatening health and welfare. The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC)’s report on animal welfare issues associated with selective breeding has also drawn attention to issues with breeding standards. Unfortunately, brachycephalic dog ownership is still on the rise in New Zealand. And a brachycephalic breed sold online will fetch three to four times as much as a Labrador puppy. But Becky wants us to be clear with our terminology. A ‘pedigree’ dog is one with a three-generation pedigree from the Kennel Club, while ‘purebred’ can mean the same thing, but is often used to refer to ‘backyard’ bred unregistered dogs with no pedigree. The problem is that referring to issues in ‘purebred dogs’, without being specific about which animals we are talking about, results in purebred breeding problems becoming pedigree problems. The blame is then lumped onto organisations such as the Kennel Club who have no control over unregistered breeders. This then results in extreme defensiveness and backlash from these groups who feel like they are being vilified. Becky admits that breed standards need to be updated to discourage extremes and the good news is that the bulldog breed standard is currently being reviewed in New Zealand.

Virginia Williams, representing MPI, spoke about the regulatory framework for animals in research and how it has been progressed. The definition of ‘manipulation’ has been broadened to include killing an animal for research, testing, and teaching. Genetically modified animals have also been incorporated.

Day 2 – Production & Food animal species

Day two began with the pork industry – Kirsty Chidgey from Massey University gave an overview of the New Zealand perspective with a focus on farrowing systems. While gestation stalls have been phased out, crates are still being used for parturition and lactation. Farrowing crates are in the best interests of piglet welfare as they reduce crushing injuries, but are detrimental to the sow’s behavioural wellbeing. Kirsty investigated alternative systems for her doctoral studies and gave us a run-down of the use of pens at different stages of parturition and lactation. Kate Plush from SunPork Solutions summarised the two periods of compromised welfare for sows in farrowing crates: during nest-building and parturition, and in late lactation when no respite from piglets is provided. The dairy industry was next, with presentations from Jess Spatz Shelgren of Fonterra, Suzanne Dowling of AgResearch, and Cameron Clark from The University of Sydney. Andrew Fisher from The University of Melbourne Animal Welfare Science Centre concluded with an overview of welfare assessment toolkits. Paul Hardy-Smith from Panaquatic Health Solutions took us through quality and welfare aspects of how we kill fish. The poultry industry was represented by talks from Kate Hartcher from RSPCA Australia and Kerry Mulqueen who provides technical advice to the NZ poultry industry.

Day 3 – A busy day of welfare

Day three was jam-packed with talks ranging from ‘What’s really happening down on the farm?’ by Nita Harding from DairyNZ, to hoarding issues presented by Rosemary Elliott from Sentient. Nita spoke about farm monitoring; why it is necessary, how it is done, what is being found out, and how the information is being used. Kate Blaszak from WAP spoke about advocacy in animal welfare driving change. Virginia Williams spoke again for MPI about the factors underlying animal welfare offending. She gave a candid account of the types of offenders presented to MPI with some case studies. Nat Waran from Napier spoke again about One Welfare and Veterinary Education. There is a reluctance to get rid of old topics in veterinary curricula and replace them with new topics – particularly animal welfare. It takes a passion for subjects to drive them into the curriculum. There is very little integration and applied relevance with animal welfare teaching. She spoke about the difference between welfare and ethics and the need to take the ethical part ‘out of it’. “Welfare is about the subjective experience of the animal, while ethics is about what we think about the animal’s situation based on our own morals/viewpoint”. Jen Jamieson from MPI concluded the talks for the animal welfare chapter with a brilliant discussion of her PhD research. She looked at how human behaviour changes starts with schools – by exploring adolescent views of farm animal welfare. They are the next generation of animal consumers and so their views matter. I highly recommend you check out the YouTube recording of her talk given at the First International Conference on Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare here.

What did I learn from Science Week?

Too much to mention! I thoroughly enjoyed my time and having the chance to learn from so many interesting people. The awards dinner on the final night was truly inspiring. I enjoyed hearing about peoples’ achievements and everything they were doing in their various fields of veterinary science. The most important take-home is a reconfirmation that animal welfare is what drives me. I am re-invigorated to study for the membership examination next year.

***I would like to thank Massey University’s Institute of Veterinary, Animal, and Biomedical Sciences (Postgraduate) for generously sponsoring my attendance at Science Week this year***