However, despite empowering us to make the right choices for our companion animals, veterinarians are often much more hesitant to lend their voice and expertise when it comes to making the right choices for animal welfare in the world at large. Although concern for animal welfare has been steadily increasing within the general public in recent decades, incorporation of animal welfare into the veterinary profession lags behind. Many vet schools do not have faculty with expertise in animal welfare or offer specific animal welfare courses. Furthermore, research tracking veterinary students as they progress through their education shows that their perception of animal sentience decreases, and that in men empathy towards animals also decreases. Many will be surprised to learn that the concept of animal welfare was only added to the veterinarian’s oath in the U.S. in 2011.
However, there is reason to hope that a fundamental shift is underway in the veterinary profession. Just this year, professional veterinary associations around the world have lent their voice in support of policy changes that would improve the welfare of millions of animals.
1. The British Veterinary Association called for an end to the slaughter of non-stunned animals in the UK
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) was among other animal welfare organizations calling for a ban on the slaughter of non-stunned animals. While humane slaughter law in the UK requires stunning prior to slaughter in most cases, a special exemption exists for kosher and halal slaughter facilities. BVA president John Blackwell said, “Scientific evidence tells us that non-stun slaughter allows the animal to perceive pain and compromises animal welfare. This is an issue that affects the welfare of millions of individual animals every year.”
Although the ban was ultimately rejected by the UK government, BVA’s continued involvement in the effort lends a science-based credibility to the campaign.
2. The New Zealand Veterinary Association was critical in passing legislation which strengthened the country’s animal welfare laws and proclaimed that animals are sentient
Earlier this year, New Zealand passed a landmark animal welfare legislation which built upon existing policies, making them more transparent and enforceable. The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) was instrumental in shaping the legislation, and NZVA president said in a statement, “Expectations on animal welfare have been rapidly changing, and practices that were once commonplace for pets and farm stock are no longer acceptable or tolerated. The Bill brings legislation in line with our nation’s changing attitude on the status of animals in society.”
Not only did the legislation improve existing animal welfare laws, it also formally recognized animal sentience, a huge step forward in improving the way animals are viewed and the role they play in society.
3. The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe called for a complete ban on wild animal acts in circuses across Europe
Most recently, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) made waves by calling for a total ban on the use of wild animals in circuses across Europe. The FVE, which represents 46 veterinary organizations across 38 countries joined others, including the BVA, in the case against circuses, asking “all European and national competent authorities to prohibit the use of wild mammals in travelling circuses across Europe since there is by no means the possibility that their physiological, mental and social requirements can adequately be met.” While nine European countries have full bans and nine have partial bans, backing from the FVE is sure to lend further credibility to the animal welfare cause, and will hopefully result in more countries joining those who have already banned wild animals in circuses.
The support these associations have lent to the animal welfare cause is noteworthy, especially in comparison to professional veterinary associations elsewhere. For example, the American Veterinary Medical Association continues to support the use of animals for human entertainment, and has no discernable stance on non-stunned or ritual slaughter, or animal sentience.
We’re glad to see the tides beginning to turn in the importance of animal welfare to the veterinary profession, and are hopeful to see more initiatives supported by veterinarians and veterinary associations in the future.