Monday, May 25, 2015

AVA Animal Welfare Forum kicks off 2015 Pan Pac Veterinary Conference

The Dermcare team, at their display which incorporates some fake allergenic plants (lest delegates go into full anaphylaxis on contact with wandering jew) are pointing to entrants of their "Clinic Cat of the Year" competition. Phil managed to enter, so if you feel moved to vote (so far he is losing to the 130 other cats) click here.
SAT is currently amongst the bright lights and big city (all those sky scrapers bring that song to mind) of Brisbane, where almost 1000 veterinarians have gathered for the 2015 PanPacific Veterinary Conference.

The conference officially kicks off today, but yesterday the Australian Veterinary Association hosted its inaugural animal welfare forum.

Within the profession, animal welfare matters are a source of sometimes heated debate. Just like in the general population, the veterinary profession consists of people with a spectrum of views on animal welfare – from those who believe animals are a resource to be used, to those who subscribe to an animal rights position, and the majority on a spectrum somewhere in between.

That presents something of a challenge for an organisation representing the majority of veterinarians in the country. Veterinarians work across a range of fields from companion animal practice to production animals, Government policy, public health, consultancy and meat inspection. It’s not unexpected that a veterinarian who treats cattle prior to live export might have a different view than a vet who treats pets in the city.

The difficulty is that the AVA is a single organisation, and there is a need to find the commonality in the views of members so that when it comes to making statements about animal welfare the position of the AVA is strong.

The forum was facilitated by Mark Strom, an organisational strategist and business consultant who has a PhD in the history of ideas. He uses techniques like grounded questions to open the way for collective understanding. As I could understand, a grounded question is one which helps draw out a story. An abstract question might be something like, “what do you want our profession to look like?” while a grounded question might be “who are you proud of?” or “what are the best examples of the AVA helping vets tackling something controversial?” [I spent last night in my hotel room trying to think of grounded questions about animal welfare, sadly without any animals to bounce ideas off].

It’s very clear that some veterinarians see themselves as belonging to an industry, and some see themselves as belonging to a profession. When it comes to animal welfare, some do not believe we need a strategy because animal welfare underpins everything we do. Others believe it must be explicitly put on the table so it cannot be overlooked.

The discussion – which audience members could participate in anonymously via text message – was very interesting. Is there any point, someone asked, in the AVA having a position on a particular animal welfare issue if members of the organisation have such different views? Is there a way of an organisation publicly having no consensus?

Since the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) was dismantled by the current Government, there has been something of a vacuum. The AVA has stepped in and is developing an animal welfare strategy. Other policies for future discussion include a policy on pain relief in livestock undergoing husbandry procedures – something SAT is a big supporter of.

It is telling and I think excellent that the 2015 Pan Pacific Veterinary Conference began with an animal welfare forum. Hopefully this will be an annual event. My view is that welfare and wellbeing need to be in the forefront of the minds of veterinary professionals, regardless of the industries we work with and within.

We're looking forward to the scientific program and plenary sessions.

Meanwhile, while we are fortunate enough to be at the conference, other vets like John Skuja are dealing with some really challenging circumstances as they help out in Nepal. You can read about him here.