Human-Animal Studies in Portugal: Interview with Verónica Policarpo

Verónica Policarpo, you are coordinating a new postgraduate course at the University of Lisbon, Animais e Sociedade (Animals and Society). Tell us more about this course!

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The course Animais e Sociedade is part of the activities in the context of the Human-Animal Studies Hub. In late 2018, my research institution ICS-ULisboa submitted an application to the US-based International Development Fund do Animals and Society Institute, to bring Human-Animal Studies to Portugal. In this application, we proposed a number of initiatives to launch the basis for this discipline in Portugal, in order to ensure a stepwise and sustainable development of the field. This postgraduate study program is one such initiative. In fact, this type of initiative is what the development fund is for: to promote the implementation of courses in countries where there is little or no activity in the field of human-animal studies. In February 2019, our proposal was awarded funding, which allowed us to continue existing activities as well as launch new ones, such as this course.

What is the unique objective of this course? To provide a scientific, pluralistic and interdisciplinary perspective on the relationship between human and non-human animals, from the viewpoint of the Human-Animal Studies field, and in Portuguese. The course brings together a broad and diverse set of themes, to suit the training needs of students from different professional and disciplinary backgrounds. The program includes themes as diverse as companion animals and multi-species families, the relation between children and animals, the situation of animals in disasters, questions related to wildlife conservation, animals for food production, the welfare of animals used for entertainment and kept in captivity, animal rights and animal politics, media representation of animals as well as the questions of animal law under discussion in Portugal right now. Teachers and specialists from different disciplinary fields will contribute: sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, biology, veterinary medicine and law. The aim is to stimulate critical thinking about human animal relations, based on state-of-the-art scientific information from a variety of fields of knowledge.

The course is part of the initiative you coordinate in establishing this new field of study in Portugal. Tell us more about the field internationally!

Human-Animal Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study. It started to develop in the 1980s, in the USA, in parallel with the modern animal rights movement, following the publication in 1975 of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and in 1983 of Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights. This first phase is characterized by philosophy coming back to the question of the value of animals, a question raised by philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century – changing the focus from the capacity of animals to think to their capacity to suffer. At the same time, the social sciences were producing emprical evidence of the extraordinarily diverse and complex relations that develop between humans and animals, with focus on the human benefits. Focus was on companion animals and primarily using quantitative methods. In response to this movement, the more interpretative social sciences and the humanities (fields such as history, literary studies and cultural studies) explored the cultural aspects of the framework in which these relations develop. This includes studies of how animals are represented in literature, art and media, or how human-animal relations have changed over time in a historic perspective.

In the 1990s, the second development phase of Human-Animal Studies widened the scope to include all types of human-animal relations: past or present, physical as well as virtua co-existence, harmonious and beneficial relations as well as those characterized by conflicts and risks to one or several of the species involved. Qualitative methods became more common, and geography, especially human geography, emerged as an important field. In disciplines such as psychology, emphasis is on the human-animal bond. In the humanities, the focus is on deconstructing what it is to be an animal, and in the attempt to understand what animals are. In this phase, important input also comes from gender and feminist studies, looking at correlations between different groups that have been oppressed historically: women, ethnic minorities, animals. Criticism of the patriarchy and the notion of intersectionality become important.

Starting around 2000 the field of study virtually explode in what can be described as the third wave. In North America and the UK, courses or university program multiply. From the field of anthropology, innovative ethnographic perspectives emerge, in which animals are integrated as research subjects in multispecies ethnographies. A parallel development are the Critical Animal Studies, a current which brings together academic research with an activist agenda of animal liberation. The academic publishing is thriving and in 2012 the main journal in the field is established:  Animals & Society. In 2014 the International Development Fund of the Animals and Society Institute is established, providing support for courses and training programs in countries where there is no tradition of Human-Animal Studies.

In Portugal there is much less research and far fewer researchers dedicated to the study of human-animal relations, compared to the vibrant international production. Nevertheless, during the last decade there has been some work, although not under a common framework. The Human-Animal Studies Hub aims to be that framework, bringing together under the same “intellectual ceiling” researchers from different fields with a common interest in animals and the human-animal relationship.

The Hub is organized along three axes: research, training and society outreach. I invite all researches with activity in this field to visit our web page and read our Mission, Values and Vision. If you identify with these, you are encouraged to contact us. The objective is to establish a network of synergies, creating a space for dialogue and collaboraiton. At the moment, the Hub hosts projects about companion animals, animals in disasters, feral and abandoned animals and production animals. There are several training activities, including a biannual International Summer School, a monthly reading group and this recently established postgraduate course. We also organize workshops, conferences and seminars.  grupo de leitura mensal, ou este recentíssimo curso pós-graduado Animais e Sociedade.

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Outside the academic context, for whom is this course relevant? In which walks of life do we need more knowledge about animals and society?

We definitely need to produce, and to share, more knowledge about how we live together with animals in society. In my view, everyone who works with and for animals in society need more training: ONGs, animal shelters and other organizations. Training needs to be available for professionals who deals with complex human problems such as poverty, unemployment, separations and physical and mental disease. Social assistants, psychologists, lawyers, educators, teachers. These problems have a human origin but they affect human and animal lives. And also complementary training for professionals who work directly with animals but whose education has not included a comprehensive view of the social problems around human-animal relations, such as biologists and veterinarians.

Find out more by following Verónica Policarpo @VMPolicarpo and Human-Animal Studies Hub @humananimalics on Twitter.

Of hens, mites and teabags: Interview with Francesca Nunn

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Congratulations Francesca Nunn to the NC3Rs Prize! You were awarded this prize for your work on a new approach to testing treatments against red poultry mites. Tell us more about the project!

Poultry red mites are parasites that live in hen houses and emerge at night to bite hens and consume blood. There are a number of studies ongoing worldwide to develop new ways of controlling the mites but this is a really tricky host:parasite model to work with because the mites spend most of their time off of the host. To help with this, we needed a technology which kept small numbers of mites on the host and allowed feeding and recovery of the parasites. The NC3Rs funded project was to optimise and further develop a prototype “on-hen feeding device” that had achieved ~50% mite feeding in a pilot study. This device allows accurate assessment of mite control methods on small numbers of hens before conducting field studies, for example. This addresses “Reduction” by greatly reducing the number of hens used, as it would accurately identify poorly performing mite control methods before they were progressed to field trials. This system can also be used to test the effectiveness of mite control methods across prolonged periods on small numbers of hens (4 per treatment group, as opposed to 400 per treatment group in field trials) without continually exposing birds to the parasites. This therefore addresses “Refinement” as it allows the birds to remain free from the parasites, with parasites only accessing the birds for short (3 hour) periods every 3 weeks instead of the continual exposure encountered in field trials. The project involved developing the device for all the blood feeding mite stages as well as studies to optimising feeding rates, minimising background mite mortality and using the device in trials to test its performance.

Your approach allows a huge reduction in animal numbers. What about animal welfare? What would a traditional test approach be like for a hen, and what will she experience with your refined method?

Novel systemic acarines or vaccines are tested on hens using an experimental infestation model. This involves releasing a set number of mites into a cage of hens, and then monitoring the mite population growth over time. And of course, you’d compare the treatment group to a control group. This means that the experimental hens are exposed to thousands (often tens of thousands) of mites over a number of weeks. As we know, mites cause discomfort and stress to the hens which is why we need the treatment in the first place! Using our feeding device, the hens are only exposed to 50-100 mites per time point – the rest of the time they are free to just be hens in enriched floor pens and parasite free.

Can you tell us something about where the idea came from and how you went from idea to device?

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Similar rigid devices, which were glued onto the hen had been used previously but weren’t widely adopted. This is probably due to the mites not being able to attach to the hen when the hen’s movement caused the device to move. The team at Moredun, led by Dr. Kath Bartley and Dr. Al Nisbet, came up with a tea bag type prototype which solved this problem while also managing to contain the mites. The next issue was to find a material that the mites could feed through-originally we used phytoplankton mesh but had to find an alternative that allowed the much smaller nymph stages to feed also without escaping.

 

Animal welfare outreach: Roi Mandel about student projects as dissemination initiatives

Roi Mandel, you have launched an innovative project to make students’ work in animal welfare reach a wider audience. Tell us more about the project and how it came about!

The aim of this project is rather straightforward – instead of keeping the knowledge on how to improve animal welfare inside the classroom/academia, we try to share it with the world using short (5-7 min) engaging YouTube videos, created by the students themselves.

The knowledge channelled through these videos concerns not only recently published scientific studies but also “older” studies that have a great potential to improve animal welfare in practice (yet unfortunately keep on failing to find their way to basic animal handler training programs/legislation initiatives and product labelling schemes). To improve the accessibility to these videos, English subtitles are added.

Why is important to share this knowledge? In contrast to common belief, the ability to improve the welfare of animals is rooted in holding relevant and updated knowledge, and acting based on it, and not necessarily by providing the animals with the most modern high-end/expensive farm equipment. To improve animal welfare, an animal handler first needs to know: 1. Why do farm animals behave the way they do (e.g. perception, cognition, social structure and contagion of emotions) 2. How can he/she use this knowledge to adapt the environment and his/her work habits to the needs of the animal. This type of knowledge, for example, could help farmers understand the importance of washing away the urine of a stressed cow before trying to get a naive cow into that area. Unfortunately, much of the knowledge generated by animal welfare scientists concerning these topics does not reach its target audience (animal handlers), and when it does, it is usually in the form of regulations (top-down mechanism), that set the minimum standards (i.e. prevent animal cruelty), and does not explain the rational behind them. The videos created by the students provide the audience with the knowledge of how to achieve better welfare conditions than the minimum required by law.

Is it not the responsibility of the relevant unions/sectors (dairy/meat/eggs) to channel this information to their workers? As long as farm animal training is not mandated by law in the majority of countries around the world (and in the few places where training is mandatory, like in Switzerland, there is no mechanism in place to assure periodical update of the knowledge), and as long as those who profit from these industries are not held responsible for providing this type of knowledge to their employees (or to those from which they buy their ״raw material”, e.g. meat, milk, eggs), this knowledge is bound to stay in the academy, locked by paid subscriptions for scientific journals and by conferences entrance fees. Therefore, instead of adopting the easy solution for everyone “its the farmers responsibility/fault”, this project also aims to encourage the students to take an active role in injecting knowledge into the system, hopefully creating future demand for such knowledge from the farmers themselves.

Instructional video creation is not necessarily part of the average Master student’s professional tool box. How do you prepare students for taking on this challenge?

Apart from sending the students a list of free video editing softwares that I found online, I do not do much. The students learn quickly on their own how to use these softwares using instructional videos on YouTube. They report this part to be rather fun, a bit like a game.

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What advice would you give other teachers who would like to try something like this?

Once the script is ready and approved by you (scientific content), let the students a free hand with regards to how they would like to deliver the material. They are so incredibly creative when given the option. I had students conducting interviews with farmers/scientist, fully animated videos, stop-motion videos, advertisement-like videos, students dressed like a chicken, others like a cow – as long as they deliver the take home message in a rememberable way – do not intervene in the process

For more technical/detailed advice (how to create shared work logs, a video script, pitching the ideas to the class, work meetings and such) please free to contact me at: roi.mandel@mail.huji.ac.il – I’ll be happy to share my experience.

If you want to see some examples of student videos, Roi suggests Cows’ auditory sense , Early detection of pain in cows and Social isolation of horses (by veterinary students at the Hebrew University, Israel) as well as Learning mechanisms, Dominance in goats and Hiding before calving (by 3rd year bachelor students at ETH Zurich, Switzerland).

ChickenStress: Tom Smulders about a new European research training network

Congratulations, Tom Smulders at Newcastle University and your eleven collaborators to the success in getting funding for the ChickenStress training network! These grants are so competitive that getting one is an enormous achievement in itself. And I think this is the first time ever there is one in animal welfare. Please tell us what this network is about!

The network aims to better understand the different factors that affect stress responsivity and stress resilience in laying hens. We go from the assumption that in the end, the stress resilience is based in the brains of the animals, but that the factors that determine this stress resilience are a combination of genetics, early-life experiences, and current (adult) environment. The network therefore aims to better understand how the stress response is regulated in the avian brain, but it also looks at all three factors that affect resilience. We don’t just want to understand what the effects of these different factors are, we also want to know what we can do to improve stress resilience in the future. Hopefully this will lead to new recommendations to the egg industry to improve laying hen welfare, by providing them with the resources to be more resilient to stress-full experiences.

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ChickenStress offers 14 positions for PhD students across the different participating institutions. The opportunity to do research in an internationally competitive research group is of course an important part of doing a PhD, but being a student in a European training network is not only about the individual projects. What is special about the ChickenStress project, why should people apply to this network?

The 14 positions vary widely in the scientific disciplines they represent: from basic neuroscience projects, trying to understand how the stress response is regulated in the forebrain, through more bio-informatics projects, to applied hen behaviour projects. In addition to being trained in these specialist disciplines represented by the different supervisors, who are all international leaders in their fields, the students will all also do a secondment (placement) in another lab in the network and another secondment with an industrial partner. These placements will increase the students’ scientific skill sets and their employability skills more widely. They will also see how their academic research can have real-life implications with real impact. In addition, we will have 4 network-wide events in which the students learn about different aspects of stress regulation, genomics and the interaction between research and industry, as well as present their (interim) results to each other. The aim is that the 14 students, even though they will be based across Europe, form a real cohort, who communicate with each other regularly through electronic means, and contribute significantly to the success of the network as a whole. They will be expected to organize webinars within the network, and to communicate with the public. Anybody interested in applying can still do so before May 15th 2019, by going to our provisional website: www.ncl.ac.uk/cbe/chickenstress.

With a background in poultry welfare research myself, I know how big and complex the issues in this field are. ChickenStress offers an opportunity to tackle some of these questions in a concerted way with quite a lot of resources. May I ask you to be bold and suggest one or two questions where – if successful – ChickenStress can make some real progress?

Hopes are of course always high at the start of such an endeavour, and we all know how slow and twisted the paths from science to application can be. However, I do believe that we are (still) in a crucial time with regards to the changes in housing systems from the old battery cages to whatever the new standard will be. Cage-free egg production seems to be growing very rapidly, with the USA now starting to follow the example of Europe. However, there are still very many unanswered questions about the different cage-free systems. The parts of the network that I think are the most likely to make some real progress when it comes to laying hen welfare, are the projects aimed at understanding the best route from early-life experiences (incubation, hatching, rearing) to adult laying environment. By hopefully making some very concrete recommendations about how hens should be incubated, hatched and reared, so they can cope optimally with the new adult housing environments (e.g. using different levels in multi-tier barns, using the range in free-range systems), I hope that this network will contribute to the successful implementation of these new cage-free production systems, both in terms of animal welfare, and in terms of egg production.

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What does IKEA have to do with animal welfare? Interview with Priya Motupalli

Priya Motupalli, Global Sustainable Sourcing Specialist sure is a cool title for an animal welfare scientist. Tell us what you do at IKEA Food Services AB!

Thanks!  It’s a mouthful, but it’s an incredible position where I get to place animal welfare at the heart of our vision for more sustainable agriculture.  My role is to develop and support the implementation of our sustainable sourcing strategy for the animal products in our range across all of the 52 markets we operate in.

This strategy consists of a set of programmes which covers animal welfare, environmental impact, and public health issues at the farm level.  The first of these species-specific programmes, the better chicken programme, was launched publicly in the beginning of this year.

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What are the principles you apply to your work?

The mission of IKEA is to create a better everyday life for the many people.  I take this to heart in my own work—I’m not interested in good animal welfare or sustainable food production getting stuck in a niche market where only a small segment of the population benefits or has access to it.  My goal is to consistently find a place for animal welfare as a core tenant of more sustainable food systems.  This isn’t simple, as there are documented trade-offs—so I try and focus how animal welfare can connect to environmental or social issues to move the conversation forward, rather than not moving at all.

We also have something called the 7 Food Principles which set the general business direction at IKEA Food—although there is a principle around animal welfare, my favourite one is actually “food is pleasure.”  Consumers are so overloaded now with information on the dos/don’ts of sustainable consumption!  I think part of our job is to ensure that they can pick up something in the Swedish food market, or dine in the Restaurant, or grab something in the bistro and simply feel good about it, without having to panic about where it was sourced, or what the working conditions were like, or how the animals were raised, etc.  Food is such an intimate, enjoyable part of our lives—and making more sustainable or healthier choices shouldn’t be a barrier to this enjoyment!

Of course, providing this experience for our customers is a journey and there is a great saying by our founder, Ingvar Kamprad that “most things remain to be done.”

In which way does animal welfare science get into your job? Do you use actual research data or methods?

Animal welfare science is a critical part of the job—and one of the main reasons I was hired!  Current research forms the backbone of any animal welfare sourcing criteria we create.  However, as the science only tells you what you can do, not necessarily what you should do, our sourcing criteria is also a product of country specific legislation, feedback from NGOs and suppliers, and customer desires.

In addition, data collection and the use of this data to improve animal welfare over time is an integral part of our better chicken programme, and will form an integral part of our other species-specific programmes as well.  Alongside any input criteria we set, we have also identified key welfare outcomes that we will measure with the help of our suppliers and retail partners.  These welfare outcome measures will provide objective information on the quality of life for animals’ specific to our supply chain. In time, we can use this information to establish key areas of improvement and apply targeted interventions.

Our first data-set related to the better chicken programme came in recently and I’m keen to get it to start working for us!

If you are interested in how IKEA works with sustainability in general: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/this-is-ikea/people-planet/

If you want to learn more about IKEA’s view on animal welfare: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/doc/general-document/ikea-read-more-about-ikeas-view-on-animal-welfare__1364641255476.pdf

Follow Priya on twitter:@drpriyamots

Coverage of Better Chicken: http://5mpoultry.uberflip.com/i/976632-poultry-digital-may-2018/15?m4=

Agent-based modelling in animal research – interview with Iris Boumans and Eddie Bokkers

Congratulations Iris Boumans and Eddie Bokkers to the publication of two papers in Physiology and Behaviour! These papers present work using a relatively new behaviour research approach. What is Agent-Based Modelling and how is it useful in the study of farm animal behaviour?

Agent-based modelling is a computer simulation method in which agents (representing pigs in our case) are individually programmed to have their own goals and can make their own decisions, within the limits of certain rules. Especially interesting in these simulation is the interaction between agents and the environment, which can affect the decisions agents make. In this way behaviour can emerge that was not programmed on forehand. Due to conflicts at a feeding place, for example, pigs can adapt their feeding behaviour and aggressive interactions might occur. Or a stimulus-poor environment can trigger redirected behaviour in an individual, such as tail biting, which can develop into a large scale tail biting outbreak in a group. These kind of simulations provide us more insight in the underlying mechanisms of pig behaviours, the effect of the environment and pig characteristics on this behaviour, and how this affect the performance and welfare of pigs. This can be very useful in the study of farm animal behaviour to understand how housing and management conditions affect animals and to learn how we can use behaviour as indicator for performance and animal welfare. The advantage of using simulation models such as we did is that many variations of situations can be explored without the need of doing animal experiments.

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In your first paper (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.04.032), you present the development of the model, and in the second paper (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.03.030) you use it to study feeding patterns, social interactions and growth in pigs. Tell us more about what you actually did and what you found!

Large variation in feeding behaviour can be observed among pigs: some have large meals where others ‘nibble’ more, some eat fast where others eat slow, and some eat more in the morning where others eat more in the afternoon. What is causing this variation, and what can it tell about the performance of the animals? The aim of our studies was to understand this variation in feeding behaviour of pigs and the implications of these various feeding patterns for their productivity and welfare. In the first paper we explain how we developed an agent-based model to understand the mechanisms underlying feeding and social interaction behaviour. We used the model to explore the complex interaction between physiological processes (metabolic, hormonal and growth processes) and the social context (social facilitation, competition and behavioural strategies). We found that high levels of competition can be recognised by changing meal-based patterns (e.g. meal frequency), which can either increase or decrease due to varying behavioural strategies of pigs (approach or avoid). Especially increased meal frequency was associated with increased aggression, although both an increased and decreased meal frequency caused problems, such as a reduced feed intake and reduced growth. The group size at which competition levels reduced productivity and welfare could be predicted from the average daily feeding time of pigs. In the second paper we further explored the variation in feeding, social interaction and growth patterns in pigs. In literature, studies found contradicting results on relations between dominance rank of pigs, feeding types (e.g. meal eaters vs. nibblers) and growth patterns. These contradictions can be explained by variation in pig characteristics, such as growth potential and coping style. Model results showed that variation in characteristics among group-housed pigs can benefit animal welfare by reducing aggression at group level, but can also make some pigs more susceptible to competition, such as low-ranking pigs and pigs with a passive coping style. Pigs that are socially constrained in a competitive situation can be identified by a changed 24 hour feeding pattern with reduced feed intake in the morning.

This is quite a new approach, and so knowledge is still rather limited. Is it possible to say something already about the potential practical applications of this work? What is needed before this research can be put to practical use?

Our work shows that feeding patterns can tell us much more about pig welfare and productivity then was thought so far. With currently ongoing technological developments in pig farming, such as automatic feeders and individual recognition, pig behaviours can be monitored individually and real-time on farms. Recognising behavioural signals, preferably at an early stage, can help to prevent problems and improve productivity, health and welfare in pigs. At present, however, interpretation of these behaviours and early detection of deviating behavioural patterns is still challenging due to the large variation within and among individuals. With our model we gained a deeper understanding of variation in feeding behaviour and found feeding patterns that can serve as indicators for reduced growth, aggression and social constraints. We learned, for example, that it is important for these indicators to analyse patterns on individual level and within 24 hours, instead of at group level and daily averages as is currently common. Furthermore, we should not only look at one component of a behaviour, such as feed intake, but also at other components of feeding behaviour, such as feeding time, meal frequency and feeding rate. Changes in feeding behaviour have been associated with several welfare issues, such as health problems and tail biting behaviour. For future studies, it would be interesting to study the relation between feeding patterns.

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