Journal letters: animal welfare standards of vets, badger killing

In the last month veterinary colleagues and I have published three letters in UK veterinary journals on animal welfare issues. In the first, I described phenomena suggesting that the previously poor animal welfare standards of many veterinarians may be improving. These have included the establishment and increasing popularity of veterinary associations dedicated to animal welfare, and the creation within Europe and the US of new veterinary specialisations in animal welfare science, ethics and law.

In the other two, six of us published scientific critiques of UK government plans to shoot badgers - which harbour tuberculosis - to attempt to reduce its incidence within British cattle herds. For a succinct summary of the key welfare issues, see a letter to the government by nine of us. And don’t miss our new Facebook page for veterinary professionals opposed to the badger cull!

Peruvian humane education outreach tour

In the final two weeks of August I visited Peru for an outreach tour organized by Peruvian organisation Unidos por los Animales (UPA). The tour was extremely successful. Outcomes included:

• I delivered 20 main powerpoint presentations on humane teaching methods within veterinary and other biomedical education, animal experiments and alternatives, animal welfare standards within the veterinary profession, and several other animal protection topics (my standard presentations are here). Additionally, academics from several veterinary schools in Lima delivered presentations on the successful use of humane teaching methods within their disciplines (e.g. anatomy, physiology, surgical and clinical skills training), and universities. These were mostly delivered at four humane education and animal welfare conferences organised by UPA in Lima and two other cities. Our audiences varied from around 50 – 150 and were mostly comprised of students, faculty members and animal advocates. Several additional presentations were provided during meetings at universities, as well as one presentation at a Small Animal Veterinary Association meeting in Lima.

• We held eight successful meetings at universities (mostly veterinary schools, with some other faculties), or with faculty members. Deans of veterinary schools were present (twice), and even a University Vice-President (once), along with senior surgical instructors, or faculty members in charge of key animal-using disciplines, such as physiology. UPA did extremely well to secure these meetings.

• We held four main exhibitions of humane teaching methods supplied from the InterNICHE international and Peruvian alternatives libraries, with some mannequins also supplied by a veterinary school in Lima. These were made by students or faculty.

• We achieved considerable media coverage (links are below).

Audiences were generally very receptive to our information and messages. It was exciting to see large numbers of veterinary and other students so interested in our exhibitions of alternatives, along with television and radio stations and their reporters, and, perhaps most importantly, the academics in charge of courses. It was inspiring to see their enthusiasm for humane teaching methods, and to learn of their own initiatives, sometimes assisted by the work of APEH in Peru. For example, the anatomy museum at the Veterinary Medicine School of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima included a large collection of ethically-sourced cadavers (skeletons or bodies obtained from animals that have been euthanised for medical reasons, or that have died naturally or in accidents). Similarly, to overcome the prohibitive costs of acquiring additional venipuncture (blood draw) mannequins from the US, students and faculty at the Universidad Ricardo Palma veterinary school in Lima have mastered the art of cheaply making their own. They now have an impressive range of these mannequins which we enjoyed exhibiting, to help encourage other universities to similarly overcome their financial limitations.

Perhaps most exciting of all, however, were our communications with very senior faculty at a veterinary and a medical school in Tacna. Both had been the subject of recent media controversy and campaigns following publicity of their harmful use of animals, particularly, use of stray dogs in terminal surgical laboratories. Following our meeting with the medical school faculty, they accepted their students could gain similar surgical experience by assisting veterinarians sterilising these street dogs, as part of a charitable neutering program. I very much hope that this will proceed, and be successful. And it was amazing to see faculty from the veterinary school address the audience of around 100 at the end of our humane education and animal welfare conference there, to tell everyone that their eyes had been opened, and that they would seriously consider introducing humane teaching methods!

I’m very grateful to the Swiss organization Aktionsgemeinschaft Schweizer Tierversuchsgegner for sponsoring my trip to Peru, and to InterNICHE for supplying the humane teaching alternatives exhibited. My photos of this trip are here.

Examples of media coverage include:




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Interview: veganism and extreme ironing

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Article: Lives to be proud of...

In July an avalanche took the lives of nine climbers attempting the perilous Three Monts Route to the summit of Mt Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, which rises to 4,808 m. Mountaineers know the risks. Why, then, do we still leave the safety of the valleys, for the rarefied heights above? Three summers ago I balanced on that same steep, snowy slope, with similar massive seracs (snow ridges) teetering above my head. The story of my adventure, and reflections on life and death, has just been published in Vet Practice.