Animal Welfare Tops Agenda for State VMAs, Goal of New AVMA Division

In an attempt to answer new and recurring questions about the humane treatment and use of animals, and establish veterinarians as industry leaders in that capacity, the California VMA (CVMA) created a set of eight “Principles of Animal Care and Use” in October, said Jon Klingborg, DVM, president of the CVMA. In a similar move, the Illinois VMA created an animal welfare committee in the spring to develop welfare recommendations for veterinarians, and the AVMA announced a new division of Animal Welfare on Nov. 20, 2004.

“[Welfare] seems to be on everybody’s radar,” Klingborg said.

As a result, an increasing number of veterinarians see a need to be proactive, not reactive, with regard to questions about animal welfare, such as ear cropping, tail docking and forced molting.

“There are so many [welfare] issues that come up in terms of practice and policy and rather than reacting we would like to develop cogent recommendations and positions on issues relating to animal welfare and the interests of the veterinary community,” said Peter Weber, CAE, executive director of the Illinois VMA.

The eight CVMA principles include a definition of animals as sentient beings, call for balanced use and care that benefit animals and society, and suggest that all animals be provided a humane death. It is not, however, an animal rights document, Klingborg emphasized. Adopted Oct. 9, 2004, and published in the November/December issue of the California Veterinarian, the CVMA magazine, the principles were developed as a tool to help veterinarians navigate the muddy waters of animal welfare, Klingborg said.

“In the veterinary profession there has been a time lag from the time an issue comes in front of an organized group to when the outcome is published,” Klingborg added. “We need to be more proactive.”

Unlike existing position statements, which Klingborg says often send muted messages, the CVMA principles will help veterinarians act quickly and decisively on timely issues. In fact, he believes the CVMA principles have already helped provide clarity and support for the industry. When the practice of forced molting was presented to an AVMA committee this year, a CVMA delegate referenced a principle that stipulates, “Animals should be given food and water…” and, for the first time in six years, the committee voted to ban the practice, he said.

Looking forward, the AVMA expects the five staff members, who will comprise the welfare division, to “monitor the science of animal welfare so that decisions can be based on what is in the best interests of the animal versus knee-jerk reactions” to issues introduced by animal rights groups, said Sharon Granskog, AVMA’s assistant director for media relations. Animal welfare “is a major concern for the AVMA,” Granskog said. “It is the cornerstone of veterinary medicine.”