COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State University, through a unique international collaboration, is striving to become the premier university in the nation on animal welfare education.
The Department of Animal Sciences within the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences has teamed up with the University of Melbourne in Australia to incorporate animal welfare teaching modules into course curricula and establish training programs on the proper care and handling of farm and companion animals.
"We have the opportunity to gain expertise in the animal welfare arena by teaming up with one of the strongest centers of excellence in the world of animal welfare as it relates to education," said James Kinder, chair of Ohio State's Department of Animal Sciences. "Ohio is in an advantageous position to delve into the whole area of understanding public attitudes and the decision-making processes based on animal welfare issues."
Animal welfare is the concept of minimizing emotional or physical suffering of animals in whatever capacity they are serving their purpose in society.
A recent Ohio State University survey of 1,800 Ohioans found that 92 percent agreed or strongly agreed that it is important that farm animals are well cared for, and 85 percent said that the quality of life for farm animals is important even when they are used for meat. Additionally, the survey revealed that 81 percent agreed that "the well-being of farm animals is just as important as the well-being of pets," and 75 percent agreed that "farm animals should be protected from feeling physical pain."
"Stewardship encompasses animal welfare, production efficiency, environmental concern and social awareness," said Kinder. "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."
Paul Hemsworth, a professor with the University of Melbourne and director of Australia's Animal Welfare Science Centre, has been leading the charge for the past three years to help establish a range of animal welfare-related programs at Ohio State.
"The collaboration has been beneficial for both groups and has given us the opportunity to work more internationally. It brings this area of animal welfare science to Ohio," said Hemsworth, while on a recent visit to Ohio State. "This is the first U.S. collaboration for us in regards to animal welfare."
The Animal Welfare Science Centre is a joint organization with Australia's University of Melbourne, Monash University and the Department of Primary Industries, and is internationally recognized as a leading research and educational facility of animal welfare topics. Hemsworth, particularly, is 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. We need to make sure that the foundation of animal treatment is based in science and not just emotion."
One of those scientific endeavors is the incorporation of animal welfare teaching modules into the animal sciences curricula. It is one of the first projects of its kind in the country.
"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.
Added Hemsworth, "It's all about what science does in telling us about animal suffering and how those methods can be used to provide students a greater understanding of animal welfare ethics. The topic of animal welfare is missing from most animal sciences teaching around the world."
Nine teaching modules, ranging from animal ethics to stress impact to proper animal welfare techniques of farm and companion animals have been developed and are awaiting approval to be included in future Ohio State animal sciences courses.
Another aspect of the collaborative work is the development of training programs in Ohio's swine and dairy industries.
"The programs target the behaviors and attitudes of people working in these industries and the effects they have on animal welfare," said Hemsworth.
The computer-based training programs focus on key attitudes and behaviors centering on animal welfare and how changing those traits can improve an animal's well-being and industry productivity.
Hemsworth said the training programs have seen success in Australia with three-fourths of participants showing an improvement in their attitudes and behavior within a month of completing the training.