Guelph centre works to inform animal welfare debate

Policy making has traditionally been based on fact-based decisions put forward by researchers. In animal welfare, that’s where the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph comes in. The centre provides some of the information for policymakers to make decisions based on farm sense and research evidence. Some farmers object to policies that lead them to change the way they care for their livestock, but also realize research is key to the well-being of their operations.

Recently, citizens have demanded more say in the way food is produced, leading to some huge changes in housing and cage-free, open production. Researchers are also looking at livestock transportation and the challenges animals face. They also want to create best management practices for castration and dehorning to make them as humane as possible. But animal welfare issues are seldom simple; for example, some approaches to housing that make life more natural for livestock are not necessarily environmentally friendly, or best for the animal’s health. Raising livestock cost effectively on the limited and increasingly shrinking amount of farmland requires close quarters, and the demand from society for cheap food, humane production, and environmental sustainability can pose a challenge.

Researchers like Prof. Tina Widowski, chair of the Guelph centre, along with seven faculty and more than 50 graduate students are addressing these issues. They bring real-world experience to the quest, with some of them returning to university pursue an animal welfare specialty after gaining experience in the field. The next 25 years will be just as fascinating for the animal welfare sector, says Widowski. People will continue eating meat, but their animal welfare expectations will increase. Tall order? Yes indeed.

Is this good for animal welfare? Photo credit: sheknows.com

Is this good for animal welfare? Photo credit: sheknows.com

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Farmers care about conserving species at risk

Farmers use modern production practices to keep production up and food prices down. Despite gains made with local food, society doesn’t always recognize the importance of agriculture and the need for farmers to be profitable. Farmers maximize productivity by using their existing land to the greatest extent. In earlier times, that could lead to what farmers would later learn were poor environmental decisions, such as clearing away forests and letting livestock get too close to waterways.

But times have changed, and farmers knew they had to get out in front of thesepractices, or answer to the public. That led to the development of a variety of tools, including environmental farm plans and sustainability management practices. Agriculture has embraced conservation, as shown by results of a new survey by the Ontario Soil and Crop Association that administers a species at risk incentive program on behalf of the province. The survey centred around producers’ attitudes towards species at risk where more than half of all respondents said they would feel lucky, proud, or pleased to find at-risk species on their property, and over 60 per cent of respondents want to protect them.

The bobolink is a grassland bird listed as threatened in Ontario. For habitat they rely in large part on the hayfields and pastures created and maintained by farmers in southern Ontario. Photo credit: kiwifoto.com

The bobolink is a grassland bird listed as threatened in Ontario. For habitat they rely in large part on the hayfields and pastures created and maintained by farmers in southern Ontario. Photo credit: kiwifoto.com

These results counter the perception that some farmers would ignore these species if they found them on their property, because it might interrupt or interfere with production. That said, farmers still feel like old perceptions exist among some members of the public. More than 90 per cent of the respondents think people are unaware of how species at risk affects farmers, and most believe environmental conservation responsibility falls on them…which it does. Odds are any species found to be at risk are unlikely to call highly populated areas home or they’ll have left areas where urban sprawl is occurring, to find more environmentally friendly confines – like farmers’ fields. It’s an additional social responsibility for farmers, and they need support.

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Science now considered fun, cool

Science wasn’t always cool. But according to a new report from a group called Let’s Talk Science, a science education and outreach organization with an active chapter at the University of Guelph, the percentage of people who think science is “fun” has increased to more than 72 per cent, a 40 per cent increase over the past few years. This is both amazing and encouraging — if you appreciate science at a young age it’s more likely you’ll become an adult that understands the value of science-based policies and decisions while being able to ask questions.

Science and agriculture go hand in hand. The University of Guelph is always working on developing new innovations to improve the lives of people and animals, such as developing a crop that can be turned into flour that helps people slow their absorption of glucose. It would be a breakthrough for diabetics. New plant varieties developed at the University of Guelph, with the support of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and organizations such as SeCan, contribute more than $650 million a year to the economy and help farmers in all parts of Ontario prosper.

The challenge to science is to do what farming has done: capitalize on its good standing to attract some more new blood. I think people need exposure to what makes

Albert Einstein, one of history's most famous and well-known scientists. Photo credit pt.wikipedia.org

Albert Einstein, one of history’s most famous and well-known scientists. Photo credit pt.wikipedia.org

science not only fascinating but useful and enjoyable. Campaigns are underway now such as Research Matters to show how Canadian researchers are making meaningful contributions to society by addressing the challenges and opportunities before them. Scientist: What a cool occupation!

 

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