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Research and development to underpin policy - animal welfare science

Research and development (R&D) is one of the cornerstones of effective animal welfare policies and practices.

With that in mind during the early years of the AAWS, the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy Advisory Committee’s R&D working group developed an integrated, cross-sectoral research and development framework for animal welfare.

The working group, which was chaired by Keith Adams, consulted all jurisdictions and sectoral groups, as well as research institutions such as universities, cooperative research centres, rural R&D corporations, CSIRO and state animal welfare agencies.

They found that, while Australia was well served by researchers—focussing primarily on animal biology, production and behaviour—there was no ‘linking’ arrangements nationally. Without a national animal welfare R&D agenda, there was no clear way of coordinating work on the science underpinning government policy in strategically important areas.

The R&D working group believed the best way of making these links was to establish a ‘virtual’ research centre. The Australian Animal Welfare Research Centre would build on the efforts of groups involved in animal welfare research and take broad-based animal research into the future. It would draw on the expertise in CSIRO’s Division of Livestock Industries, the Victorian Animal Welfare Science Centre and the Queensland University’s Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics. It would help drive research in a number of areas that cross the animal-use sectors defined in the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, including:

•human–animal interaction
•the definition of animal welfare
•pain management
•housing / husbandry
•assessing the welfare of animals
•transport issues
•alternatives / better practice
•social science issues.

The research centre would also support Australia’s ongoing involvement with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

As an international governmental organisation, the OIE’s focus on animal welfare is similar to that of the AAWS—promoting animal welfare that is underpinned by sound science. Australia is highly regarded within the OIE as a scientific research provider.

The AAWS’s involvement in the OIE was expected to have positive flow-on effects for local science in terms of better quality and availability of research outcomes. New Zealand and Australia put together a joint bid to establish an OIE International Collaborative Centre for Animal Welfare Science and Bioethical Analysis to be considered by all 172 member countries of the OIE in 2008.

Stunning system a success

Natural behaviour is the key to a new Australian-designed method of efficiently and humanely slaughtering fish after they have been caught. The innovative system results in improved animal welfare outcomes and occupational health and safety for fishers, and better tasting fish for consumers.

It takes advantage of the natural tendency of fish to swim against water flows, and involves leading them into a percussive stunning device. This is much less stressful than removing the fish from the water and handling them manually. Fish can be brain dead within two seconds of leaving the holding tank—a considerable reduction in the amount of stress they can experience using other methods.

There are also important economic benefits, not least of which is a better quality catch to take to market.

Internationally, many fish-farming industries, including the salmon and trout industries, use variations of percussive stunning.  And it is used almost exclusively in Tasmania’s salmonid farming industry.

The new system’s designer, Bruce Goodrick, first became interested in the effect harvesting methods had on fish quality in 1984, when he was researching new seafood technologies and studying tuna harvesting and catch management.

In 2000, Mr Goodrick formed Seafood Innovations, which has been instrumental in introducing percussive stunning around the world.

‘In 2003 we developed the behaviour-based system and, since then, have been constantly refining it in terms of size and efficiency, manpower and fish response as we learn more,’ Mr Goodrick said.

Dr Paul Hardy-Smith, of Panaquatic Health Solutions, an Australian-based veterinary consultancy that specialises in aquatic animal health management, is a strong advocate of the new system.

‘One of the big drivers behind the system’s development was to stop fish brain activity as quickly as possible, and thereby delay the onset of rigor and the severity of rigor,’ Dr Hardy-Smith said.

‘This leads to much improved flesh quality with significantly less “gaping” of the muscle (when muscle blocks pull away from each other) which has negative flow-on consequences for filleting and slicing.

‘Unstunned fish can also have blood vessel rupture due to poor bleed-out, and strong muscular contractions from vigorous escape attempts can also downgrade the flesh.’

Percussive stunning is used around the world, including Norway, Scotland, Chile, Denmark, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. It is also being trialled in some commercial wild catch fisheries.

Listen to the interview with Paul Hardy-Smith

Transcript of interview

Improving wild dog traps

During the past decade the approach to managing pests such as wild dogs has changed. The AAWS Sectoral Working Group on Wild Animals recognises that, like most other aspects of agriculture or nature conservation, wild dog control needs to be carefully planned, coordinated and humane.

While killing is considered a last resort, where it is necessary there are various techniques graziers use to stop wild dogs wreaking havoc on Australia’s grazing areas.

Trapping is one of these, but it is often criticised because of the suffering it causes: capture and confinement for many hours and injuries caused both directly by the trap and by attempting to escape. Continuing to use this method remains an animal welfare issue.

A Victorian company is working on a lethal trap device that will minimise dogs’ suffering. Originally developed in the United States, the device is an adapted leg hold trap with rubber padding and other modifications to greatly reduce the risk of injury.

A sealed rubber tube attached to the jaws of the trap is filled with a fast-acting toxin which, when gnawed on by a wild dog—a natural behaviour for a trapped animal—will reduce the time the animal is in distress.

Frank Gigliotti from General Dogs Body has been instrumental in the work being done in Australia.
‘We are currently looking into two fast-acting toxins as part of our research,’ said Mr Gigliotti. ‘Cyanide results in the animal becoming brain dead within three minutes of receiving the dose.’ Para-aminopropiophone (PAPP) causes rapid methaemoglobinemia which depletes the levels of oxygen in the bloodstream. This in turn makes the animal feel very lethargic and it quickly loses consciousness.

‘In my view, this is a humane method of euthanasia. The dog does not suffer from the convulsions or vocalisations which are side effects associated with many currently used poisons.

‘While the toxins are fast acting and reduce the suffering of a wild animal, there are lots of legislative issues to overcome. The toxins are not readily available to the general public, and farmers would need training or some sort of accreditation in their use.’

Mr Gigliotti has conducted trials in Australia but there is still a long way to go before the device becomes commercially available.

‘The downside of getting something like this off the ground is the cost. Who wants to pick up the registration fees? We know it works; it is just a question of who will fund the commercialisation of the device,’ Mr Gigliotti said.

Listen to the interview with Frank Keenan

Transcript of interview