COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State University educators believe stewardship of food animal production begins in the classroom, and they are taking a proactive approach to instill that responsibility in students.
Researchers from Ohio State's Department of Animal Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine have collaborated in the development of animal welfare teaching guides - one of the first projects of its kind in the United States that incorporates scientifically based animal welfare topics into existing animal sciences curriculum.
"Stewardship encompasses animal welfare, production efficiency, environmental concern and social awareness," said James Kinder, chairman of the animal sciences department. "The public and the food industry itself has become more aware of the responsibility of being a good steward of our food supply, and they demand that those in animal production be knowledgeable about those issues." Added project assistant Jeanne Osborne, "Animal welfare and food production go hand in hand. Students need to be well-versed in welfare issues and appropriate welfare practices that will keep animal welfare in mind as they enter the food-production industry. As educators, it is our responsibility to provide them with that knowledge." Nine teaching modules, ranging from animal ethics to stress impact to proper animal welfare techniques of farm and companion animals, are currently being developed and will be tested this fall. The modules are being created with help from Paul Hemsworth, director of the Animal Welfare Center in Melbourne, Australia, and renowned for his successful development and implementation of animal welfare handling on Australian farms.
"We are tapping into Paul's expertise to bring what he's done to the U.S.," said Kinder. "Animal welfare is a big concern with the public and needs to be dealt with in a proactive fashion." Kinder said the heavy emphasis on the "science" in the teaching modules is to help differentiate animal welfare from animal rights. "We need to make sure that the foundation of animal treatment is based in science and not just emotion." Said David Zartman, an Ohio State animal scientist and project scientist, "Animal rights specifies that animals are entitled to the same rights as humans in the condition that they are capable of living - to have food, water, comfort, mobility and the absence of pain. Animal welfare says that animals will be given the opportunity to minimize their suffering, not because it's their right, but because it's good husbandry." He added that although the difference between the terms must be emphasized, educators should also be charged in helping to bridge the gap between a genuine concern for an animal's well-being and the production line of which it has become a part.
"The purpose of the project is to make sure students are educated in a fashion so that they have a greater awareness for animal welfare issues and why it is important to society at large," said Kinder. "This is what our students, stakeholders and the public expect of us."