AAAS symposium—All for one and one for all?


AAAS symposium—All for one and one for all?

The individual animal, the herd, the owner, and the general public: Farm-animal veterinarians must serve more than one master when making ethical decisions.
Aug 01, 2006

When advising owners, the farm-animal veterinarian has a primary responsibility to be an advocate for the individual animal's health and welfare. At the same time, the veterinarian's responsibilities extend to protecting the health and welfare of the entire herd or flock. And at yet another level, veterinarians are consulted on national public health policies regarding, for example, food safety and zoonotic threats.

These responsibilities often compete, especially from a utilitarian perspective: An individual animal may be subjected to a painful procedure, such as dehorning or castration, to protect others in the group. Or a group of animals may be vaccinated or otherwise treated to protect an individual or sacrificed to protect another group (e.g. killing all badgers in the locality to remove the risk of tuberculosis to cattle, as has occurred in the United Kingdom).

Sometimes what a veterinarian deems best in terms of animal health and welfare may be unacceptable to an owner, a producer, a stockperson, or to the general public. In the European Union, veterinary advice solicited to help determine public policy has largely changed from accepting the subjective views of experts to requiring an objective quantitative or qualitative risk assessment.

David Morton, PhD, MRCVS
For example, to assess risk, one could calculate the risk of death to animals transported for more than X hours at a particular temperature and humidity. When using an objective risk assessment, those making public policy can better address critical animal welfare issues while taking into account practical, social, ethical, and cultural issues.

David Morton, PhD, MRCVS
Department of Biomedical Science and Ethics
University of Birmingham
Birmingham, United Kingdom