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Getting ahead of the game on welfare

by
01 December 2009, at 12:00am

AS I mentioned last month, one of my goals for this year is to reestablish vets as the leading voice on animal welfare. So when I received an invitation to speak at the AWSELVA (Animal Welfare Science Ethics and Law Veterinary Association) event on the impact of policy change on animal welfare I jumped at the chance. 

The AWSELVA event aimed to bring together a variety of perspectives on the central question: “How can we influence policy development and implementation?” and I was tasked with setting out how the BVA influences policy and its effect on animal welfare. 

Difficult concepts 

The first session, delivered by Rob Garner of the University of Leicester, grappled with the very difficult concepts of “animal welfare” and “animal rights” and outlined why each is flawed in an ethical sense when used to promote better outcomes for the animals.

As with most philosophical lectures we were left not knowing what the answer is. But it set the scene for the day as we all tried to understand how some view the concepts of animal welfare and why certain approaches may succeed where others fail. 

My session took a far more practical approach, looking at the different tools the BVA employs to lobby the various governments and bodies for policy changes that will impact on animal welfare. It was a reminder to me, as well as the audience, that there is always a huge amount of work to be done to keep on top of what’s happening in the UK, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Europe, and local government. 

Lobbying for change is based on a wide range of activities from briefing politicians and talking to the media to responding to consultations and holding networking events, such as our political dinners. All of these activities have their strengths and weaknesses but if I had to pick one lobbying tool it would be stakeholder groups, which bring together interested parties at the very early stages of developing new policy.

Invaluable

Being in the room when the draft legislation, codes or reports are being drawn up is invaluable. Once it gets to the official consultation stage it may be too late for fundamental changes and all we can do is tinker around the edges, but if we have been involved in the original concepts then there is a far better chance we’ll get the legislation we want to see. 

One clear message from the AWSELVA day was that timing is crucial, and it is particularly important at the European level. Helping to shape an EU directive is far more effective than commenting on how it should be implemented in the UK; at this stage very little detail is altered. 

On the theme of timing, I ended my session by calling upon BVA members to start bringing welfare issues to the table as early as possible. Although the BVA’s Animal Welfare Foundation did an excellent job in raising the issue of pedigree dogs’ health and welfare months before the screening of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the veterinary profession has received some criticism in the aftermath for not shouting loud enough about the problem. That should not be allowed to happen again. 

The BVA’s Ethics and Welfare Group is currently considering whether we need to prioritise animal welfare issues and, if so, how we would go about suchahuge task. There are so many things we would like to improve, but with limited resources perhaps it makes sense to focus on a smaller number in order to achieve success. 

Prioritising is a very difficult task and there are many questions to be answered, but it gives us a chance to hear from vets on the ground about their welfare priorities and may help to flag up issues before they become problems. As vets we have a duty to get ahead of the game on welfare.

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