A workshop on the standardisation of animal welfare terminology

On the 29th of November 2018, Animal Research Nexus team members helped to organise an event on the standardisation of welfare terminology. Co-hosted with aquatics expert Nicola Goodwin of the University of Cambridge and the Sanger Institute, the event was held at the 2018 LASA Annual Conference.

Our goals for event were two-fold: to provide a forum for critical reflection and discussion on the roles and consequences of standardisation in laboratory animal welfare, and to present the Zebrafish Health and Welfare Glossary to potential users and stakeholders in the community. 

Our session consisted of three talks. The first, by Animal Research Nexus researcher Reuben Message, set the scene by posing a series of broad questions about the role of standardisation in laboratory animal science and welfare in a talk entitled ‘Standardisation: a social science perspective’. Nicola Goodwin spoke next on the development and prospects of the Zebrafish Health and Welfare Glossary, which of which she is the founder and creator. Her talk was followed up by James Bussell, previously Head of the Research Support Facility at the Sanger Institute and now Director of Biomedical Services at the University of Oxford. James gave a presentation on the Mouse Welfare Terms project he has been involved in, focusing on the importance of a common language in welfare assessment, but also the practical challenges that this project has encountered. 

We were also fortunate to have a respected expert panel of respondents comprising of Eliot Lilley of the RSPCA Laboratory Animal section, Steve Ryder of the Home Office, and Gail Davies of the Animal Research Nexus. The insightful questions and commentary from our panel ensured a wide ranging and stimulating discussion following the conclusion of the talks. Key themes that emerged included the constant tension between autonomy and standards in practice, the role of the empathetic technician in implementing standards, and the constant challenge of standardising severity scoring, especially for fish. Many thanks to Beth Greenhough for chairing!

The Zebrafish Health and Welfare Glossary initiative represents a distinctive contribution to the development of the husbandry and welfare infrastructures that have become necessary in light of the growth and diversification of uses of the zebrafish model in research. With large scale movements of fish between facilities now common, it has become increasingly important to align recording practices from place to place. Thus the Zebrafish Health and Welfare Glossary is an attempt to introduce standards into a previously unstandardized area of work in the aquarium, as well as a potential case study of attempts at standardisation in the welfare arena that directly effects the work of animal technicians and relies on their expertise to be implemented. Joining a discussion of the Glossary with James’ work on the Mouse Welfare Terms (a project that functioned as a model and inspiration for Nicola’s work on the Glossary) provided a key point of comparison, enabling stimulating discussions about the pros and cons of knowledge transfer between the species that attend these very “bottom-up”, technician and animal facility-led initiatives. 

In sum, we hope that all involved found the session was informative as well as thought-provoking and enjoyable, generating new questions for our audience – especially for those considering introducing new, standardised ways of working into their facilities.

If you have any questions about this event, please get in touch with Reuben Message

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