VetNEST SUMMER SCHOOL

Animal Welfare Ethics and Law and Communication skills

Responsibilities of veterinary professionals in small-scale farms, extensive production systems and industrialized agriculture: animal welfare, veterinary ethics and law and communication skills in veterinary practice

Program

Authors:
Prof. Herwig Grimm (Vienna)
Prof. Vlatko Ilieski (Skopie)
Prof. Metka Kuhar (Slovenia)

  1. The program of this summer’s school aims at clarifying veterinarians’ roles and responsibilities in the context of small-scale farming and industrialized agriculture by focusing on the professionals’ identity and professional ethics. In particular, the summer school will address value conflicts within the field of professional responsibilities emerging from divers roles e.g. the “vet as a service provider” and the “vet speaking up for animal welfare” in agricultural contexts. By contrasting veterinarians’ responsibilities in the context of small scale farms and industrialized farms, these roles and related value conflicts will be exemplified and framed under the umbrella “professional veterinary ethics.” Therefore, emphasis will be laid on the profession’s core concepts: health and disease. Further, the topic will be addressed how to turn the gained insights into efficient communication strategies.
  2. The second aim of the program is providing answers on welfare assessment for small-scale farming systems and traditional (extensive) production systems. A growing number of consumers want to buy food, produced locally or regionally directly or under farm certification schemes, whereby acceptable animal welfare conditions oftenplay an important role. Sustainability, animal welfare, environmental and climate concerns, as well as awareness of social responsibility towards the community have increased consumers’ interest in knowing how, where andby whom food is produced and handled on its way from the farm to the table. The number of small-scale farming systems and extensive production systems in East Europe, especially in the Balkan region is bigger than in highly industrialized countries’ farms. Students will be provided with information for practical adaptation of welfare assessment protocols for application on small-scale farming systems and relevant European legal frameworks. Finally, a major input of this program will be the comparison of risk factors relevant for intensive farming systems and the adaptation of welfare assessment in small-scale farms.
  3. Many studies have shown the importance of communication skills in veterinary practice. For example, in a survey by McDermott et. al. (2005) 98% of 1774 sampled veterinarians agreed that communication skills are as important as – or more important than – clinical knowledge. Following the Calgary-Cambridge model of veterinary consultation (Adams & Kurtz, 2016) the client’s perspective of the problem and background information are placed to the foreground of consultation (i.e. an integrated clinical method of gathering information and explanation and planning). In this school students will have opportunity to work practically on different cases in order to be able to work on different costumer demands

LEARNING TOPICS

The following topics will be dealt with under the perspective of animal welfare, veterinary ethics and law:

A) Management input on small-scale farms and extensive production systems

  • Breeding technologies

Small scale farming system and extensive animal production systems differ considerably from more intensive systems. Extensive systems are especially specific due to the fact that animals tend to be maintained on pasture outdoors year round and provided supplementary feed as required. The welfare of animals in these systems is generally considered to be high. This is largely due to animals being perceived to be able to express natural behaviours in the farm setting. Comparison of environmental factors as source of risk factors for animal welfare will be taken in consideration between industrialized production systems and small scale farming.

In terms of veterinary ethics, the question arises whether veterinary treatment on small-scale farms with extensive production faces severe financial constraints. Therefore, the question will be dealt with of  how to deal with such limitations of the farmers professionally. Students will be provided with ethical tools (e.g. responsibility check) to analyse this context in light of their professional responsibility.

B) Resource based inputs

  • Identification of factors related to resources provided on pasture (e.g. shelter), management of pasture (e.g. mixing herds) and management of the animals (e.g. use of local breeds)
  • Housing of animals: Although small scale farms are animal welfare friendly at first glance, adaptations via zootechnical interventions take place on such farms as well (e.g. castrating pigs, dehorning calves, etc.). Therefore, we will address the question of whether the adaptation of animals to keeping conditions is within the responsibility of a health profession and how these practices – if supported by veterinarians – reflect back on the profession’s self-understanding.

B) Resource based inputs

  • Identification of factors related to resources provided on pasture (e.g. shelter), management of pasture (e.g. mixing herds) and management of the animals (e.g. use of local breeds)
  • Housing of animals: Although small scale farms are animal welfare friendly at first glance, adaptations via zootechnical interventions take place on such farms as well (e.g. castrating pigs, dehorning calves, etc.). Therefore, we will address the question of whether the adaptation of animals to keeping conditions is within the responsibility of a health profession and how these practices – if supported by veterinarians – reflect back on the profession’s self-understanding.

C) Animal-based measures in different systems

  • Small scale systems, extensive systems organic production etc.

Extensive management that creates a positive perception of animal welfare may also create welfare risks. For the purposes of collecting data, animal based measures need to be selected according to specific conditions in extensive production systems. For example, extensively managed animals are at risk of climatic extremes, predation and variable nutrition. Their contact with humans can be limited, and so any contact that does occur is likely to be associated with fear and distress, and this also reduces the ability to identify and treat health problems. Animals maintained under grazing have a different feeding behavior and have more physical activity than animals maintained under indoor systems.This behavior may influence the patterns of feeding, due to a difference in social familiarization of animals that graze in flocks compared to those housed indoors. Animals kept in indoor systems are exposed to a number of stressors such as frequent human contact, floor space restrictions, mixing of unfamiliar animals, and feeding space restrictions, whereas in extensive systems the stressors are associated with the physical activity to find food, the fluctuations in nutritional value of pastures and the weather. Animalsgrazing spend more time eating forage and ruminating and also tend to rest less than ruminants fed in indoor systems

Introduction of the possibility of using a welfare assessment framework with the aim of identifying potential causes of welfare compromise and useful indicators for animals in extensive production systemsrelated to the environment , heat stress and lameness. Furthermore, key indicators useful to assess welfare were nutrition and food availability, mortality/management issues, pain and fear related indicators, and numbers of illness/injuries

Regarding animal-based measures, the issue that has emerged is how far it is within the veterinarian’s responsibility to “speak for animal welfare” (BVA). Hence, the concept of health and disease and their normative implications on this issue will be scrutinized. Crucially, the concept of health – as the core idea of the veterinary profession – integrates the perspective of the animal in question. However, this animal centred idea of health – often linked to the idea of the animal patient – is one amongst many others. Students will be made familiar with important and diverging concepts of health and disease in order to raise awareness for their professional responsibility.

D) Expectations of consumers that food be produced locally or regionally with acceptable animal welfare conditions

  • Acceptable animal welfare conditions
  • Stakeholders perception of extensively production systems

Three  drivers are attributed to this perception: (1) the general public assumes that extensive conditions equal positive welfare; (2) issues faced in extensive production are perceived by producers as being ‘natural’ and therefore are either not easily addressed, and/or important to address; and (3) there is a belief that animals  have evolved in these extensive conditions, and so are well adapted to the environment in which we manage them.

  • Environmental “friendly” production

Production under extensive systemsis an important strategy to decrease spending on inputs and to produce meat and milk in a way that respects the environment, animal welfare, and which also produces “healthier” meat/milk for human consumption. The veterinary professional’s role in the societal debate will be eleboarted to enable students to gain a clear idea of their moral responsibility in the societal debae.

E) Communication skills

These communication skills are of particular importance in the field of complex decisions, including consideration of contemporary dilemmas. The relation towards the farm animals is being radically transformed due to the ethical and health concerns of general and specific publics, consumers etc., productive, profit-driven breeding is less and less legitimate. Farmers themselves might be uncertain or they cling to more traditional/modernist beliefs. Still, most of them expect a more partnership-like collaboration with their vet. In the framework of the workshop the participants will practice the perceptual and process skills on the substantial cases. The format will be practical, experiential, with role plays, reflection, sharing, exchange etc. This requires additional, more interactive, dialogic skills, such as using open questions, active listening, shared decision-making etc.

F) Legal basis and policy measures

  • Minimum legal requirement for perception of small scale farming extensive production systems
  • Labeling and private standards

The lack of a proper labelling system makes it more complicated for consumers to make conscious choices and thus more difficult to ‘reward’ farmers that employ more animal-welfare friendly techniques

G) Treating animals

  • Health management
  •  Are animals patients, production units or vectors? The students will be made familiar with the core ethical theories of animal ethics. These theories will be applied and worked with in the context of veterinary medicine. In order to illustrate these theories, cases of veterinary treatment will be compared. Therefore, the cases of ill animals on farms and their treatment will be compared with cases of animal epidemics, where healthy animals are also killed for external reasons such as economic prosperity (FMD) or public health (zoonosis).

H) Download flyer for the summer school

  • NOTE: New Flyer for the VetNEST Summer School is under preparation, but you can still see the previous one for reference.
  • Flyer for the VetNEST Summer School available. Download it here:
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