About a quarter-century ago, issues of animal welfare began to attract increasing attention, and people began hearing more about the practices used in modern animal agriculture: larger farms, hundreds or thousands of animals kept in a single barn and greater confinement. Classic examples are sows kept in gestation stalls and egg-laying hens kept in “battery” cages. People were also concerned about animals being used in laboratories.
“These issues are complex and emotionally charged for everyone” says Prof. Tina Widowski, director of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare (CCSAW) and University Chair in Animal Welfare. “It became apparent early on the world needed more thoughtful and objective ways to assess the welfare of animals that were being farmed and used in many other ways for human benefit.”
CCSAW was founded in 1989, thanks to efforts by David Porter, a professor in biomedical sciences who was passionate about developing guidelines for the care and use of laboratory animals (in 1996 the centre was renamed after Colonel K.L. Campbell in recognition of the commitment and support of his widow, Mona Campbell). The centre was the first of its kind in North America and the second in the world. Today, it is still the largest on the continent.
“The U of G has always been an international leader in research and teaching on the welfare of agricultural, laboratory, zoo and companion animals,” says Widowski. “Many of our researchers have received awards for their outstanding contributions to the science of animal welfare. There are faculty across campus studying the ethics, economics and relationships between humans and animals ”
One early contribution came from Ian Duncan, professor emeritus and U of G’s first Chair in Animal Welfare. He developed methods of “asking animals how they feel” about various environments and procedures. He explains: “It helps when we can measure what changes really matter to the animals.”
For example, one study Duncan conducted with egg-laying hens gave the birds the opportunity to go to a nesting box to lay their eggs. By making the route to the nesting box increasingly difficult (the hens had to push through a weighted door), Duncan was able to see how important it was to the birds to get to this location before laying.
“It turns out that they will work as hard to get to a suitable nesting box as they will to get to food if they have been deprived of food for several hours,” he says. Today, many new systems for housing animals are being designed to include features such as nesting boxes that research has shown to be important to animals.
The results of the research at CCSAW have led to important changes. Frank Hurnik, a former professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science and one of the centre’s founders, was instrumental in establishing the first codes of practice for the care and handling of farm animals in Canada. Today, many CCSAW faculty are developing science-based guidelines for farm and laboratory animals around the world.
“Many of the codes of practice for animals in agriculture are being revised,” Duncan says. “And many of these changes stem from research or initiatives from the centre.”
Examples include methods for pain relief for “disbudding” or dehorning cattle and for castrating piglets, a requirement for dairy and pig producers under the new codes. Other areas include animal transportation, space allowances, feeding practices, environmental enrichment and new housing systems.
In recent years CCSAW has grown significantly. For 10 years, Prof. Georgia Mason held a Canada Research Chair supporting her research on the welfare of animals such as mink raised for their fur. In 2009 a large bequest from Mona Campbell was used to establish the Campbell Chair in Companion Animal Welfare (held by Prof. Lee Neil) to focus on the welfare of dogs and cats. In 2011 Widowski was awarded the Egg Farmers of Canada Research Chair in Poultry Welfare, and in 2014 Prof. Alexandra Harlander was appointed the Burnbrae Professorship in Poultry Welfare funded by the poultry industry.
Prof. Derek Haley, chair of the CCSAW steering committee, points to other signs of growth: “Our monthly lunchtime seminar series that runs during the regular school year is always filled to capacity now with people from across campus,” he says. “The fact that Equine Guelph has asked us to partner with them to develop an equine welfare certificate program shows that interest in this subject has grown well beyond the traditional livestock species.”
Currently under the leadership of Elizabeth Stone, dean of the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), the centre collaborates not just with OVC and the Ontario Agricultural College, but also with faculty and students from the colleges of arts, social sciences, and management and economics. Courses that touch on animal welfare are taught in many programs across campus, and more than 50 graduate students are studying a wide range of issues.
Scholars from around the world are also connected to the centre, including Jane Goodall, Marian Dawkins and Temple Grandin, who hold honorary degrees from U of G.
“The centre champions education in animal welfare in many areas of study,” says Widowski. “These issues are increasingly important in society and the marketplace, but the issues are complex and we need solid science behind the policies. The founders of the centre were ahead of their time, and now that animal welfare is really coming of age there is a huge demand for our work.”