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Are Vets Profit-Seekers or Animal Welfare Advocates?

12 August 2015

UK - In this month’s British Veterinary Association Vet Futures guest blog, an academic specialising in animal welfare argues that the profession needs to do more to deliver on society’s expectation of vets as animal welfare advocates.

David Main is Professor of Animal Welfare at the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol, with research interests in welfare assessment, animal welfare education and intervention strategies to improve welfare.

In his blog on the Vet Futures website, a joint British Veterinary Association (BVA) and Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) project to help the profession shape and prepare for its future, Professor Main makes two key arguments. His first is that the profession urgently needs to deliver on society’s expectation of vets as animal welfare experts and, second, the introduction of safeguards to prevent inappropriate profit-seeking behaviour.

“Veterinarians could perhaps... do more at an individual level to act as animal welfare advocates. It is easy to inform clients on the technical rationale for a specific husbandry change but then walk away knowing full well the client will not action the advice. In the medical profession, advanced communication techniques are becoming more widely accepted to promote positive change within their patients. Perhaps we should be more explicit in teaching our veterinary students influencing skills,” he says on the first point.

On the second aspect of his argument, he believes the vast majority of individual veterinary surgeons and practices are not motivated by money and do have animals’ best interests at heart.

However, he argues that “perceptions as well as reality matter amongst our clients and society,” adding: “The obvious difference between the business structure of veterinary and medical practitioners in the UK means the profession will always be at risk of challenge for excessive profiteering.

“Since we still live in the age of the media scare story, it would seem prudent for the profession to embed some anti-profit seeking safeguards in our regulatory controls before, rather than after, a problem is highlighted.”

He believes that such safeguards, which he says could be incorporated into the RCVS Practice Standards Scheme, would be a “healthy demonstration” that the profession has animal welfare rather than profit as its main priority.

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