Animal welfare: full of paradoxes for the profession... - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Animal welfare: full of paradoxes for the profession…

GARETH CROSS takes a look at some of the difficult issues that surround the whole realm of animal welfare, particularly in light of “the Chikosi case” – and poses some pertinent questions

ONCE again the hot ice of veterinary ethics and animal welfare has been bothering me. Our family is preparing for what is becoming an annual event – vegan week – and it does focus the mind on how full of paradoxes animal welfare is for us as individuals and even more as a profession.

Like many of you reading this, we only buy outdoor bred and reared pig products and free-range chicken products, and UK lamb and beef.

However, you can easily be caught out: whilst enjoying a pot of a supermarket’s finest range gooseberry fool, I was shocked to see pork gelatin in the ingredients.

There is some consolation in that this is a by-product of the meat industry (hands up all vegetarians who wear leather shoes) but it still scuppers any hope of avoiding animal cruelty in day to day life.

The wider profession is still reeling from the RCVS’s decision to strike off Mr Chikosi, which was well covered in the August edition of this magazine. Now animal welfare is at the heart of what we do, and we all took an oath to do our utmost to safegaurd it.

Not fit to practise

As we all know, the DC sat in Belgravia house and, on the basis of animal welfare and the one-and-a-half hours it took the vet to attend the RTA dog, decided he was no longer fit to practise.

Well, I wonder what animal suffering those people on the DC supported that day by means of what they ate? A telephone call to the RCVS this week informed me that the RCVS outsources its catering. A ‘phone call to that company informed me that the meat is not sourced on the basis of welfare, but cost and quality.

Now most of us have worked with pigs, dogs and chickens, etc. Most of us would agree that pigs and dogs have a similar level of intelligence and all animals should be farmed and slaughtered humanely.

So we can safely assume that whilst deciding that one vet should be deprived of his right to work as a vet in the UK, all the vets and their lay colleagues who made that decision sat down and ate a meal during their deliberations which probably involved a net greater amount of animal suffering than did the case which they were considering.

I expect any of those Danish pigs or battery hens whose existence the DC that day funded would have gladly traded their short and miserable lives for that of the dog involved in the Chikosi case. Hot ice indeed.

This summer we visited the Cornish seal sanctuary and were struck by similar paradoxes. As well as being a major tourist attraction, they also rescue seals: an average of about 40 a year. They also have some resident seals who for various reasons cannot be released.

The colossal input and resources that go into this is open to question as to its worth, but at the end of the day most of us would agree that seal pups are worth saving, and what else can be done with them?

The logical answer would involve a captive bolt gun and the hunt kennels, with the saved resources of the seal sanctuary being put into environmental protection for the seals and education of the public who currently coo over seals in the sanctuary by day and tuck into £2 value roast chickens in the evening.

Sometimes the logical solution is not the right one, though, or just too unpalatable. I’d vote to keep the seal sanctuary.

Endless examples

The examples are endless, and those vets who work in farm animal practice especially are at the sharp end of welfare, ethics and economics. As corporates and farm supply stores undercut traditional farm animal practice, and many stores now employ their own vets, we will see the gradual death of traditional farm practices.

In the area where I work, what were once five or six separate practices have morphed and amalgamated, split from their small animal business and now form one huge farm animal practice organisation covering a 40- mile or so radius.

This is now under threat from the emergence of in-store farm animal vets and the vast buying power of their employer. Farmers (like most consumers of goods and services) buy purely on price, but may get a shock when that late night visit is needed and neither their distant farm consultant vet nor their internet drug supplier wants to come out, and the old-boy vet down the road that their father relied on was forced to sell up years ago.

The RCVS could and should have a role to support local farm practices (e.g. by lobbying to keep TB testing in the profession or to level the wholesale drug market).

No OOH back-up

My nearest experience of this was when a farm practice based nearly an hour away from us set up a mobile dog and cat vaccination van that called to our town monthly, but offered no local OOH back-up.

The RCVS had no interest in this, which nicely brings us back to the Chikosi case, as in that instance they were not prepared to uphold the OOH visit/time commitment they seem so keen on.

Life is full of paradoxes, and animal welfare, the veterinary profession and the RCVS is a minefield. None of us is perfect. I spend money buying welfareorientated meat but we sell the usual dog and cat food in our practice. We did stock and promote free-rangemeat-based dog and cat food, but no one bought it due to the cost.

It always boils down to cost and compromise, but the RCVS should insist on the highest standard of animal welfare for its meat if it expects such high standards from its members.

As well, it should be more mindful of the cost and compromises we have to juggle with in practice.

This judgement definitely showed signs of NHS standard expectations creeping in (see last month’s Cross-words and Periscope columns) with the comment about the blanket (lets call it “Blanketgate”) , the comment about having in place “adequate staff to cover all aspects of the Guide” at all hours of the day (for most rural farm and equine vets – I used to be one – that’ll just be the one of you then), and various comments about how the vet should have offered advice on how to make the dog more comfortable (for which I would suggest bringing it into the clinic on a blanket was top of the list).

We all need to prioritise animal welfare in everything we do, but to expect human welfare standards for one group of animals and accept substandard animal welfare for another group is no way to be functioning as a profession.

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