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Unit information: Introduction to Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law in 2015/16

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Unit name Introduction to Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law
Unit code VETSM0035
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Main
Open unit status Not open

Undergraduate veterinary degree



School/department Bristol Veterinary School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

The unit is intended to be a professional introduction to animal welfare science, ethics and law for practicing veterinarians. The unit will be delivered via a combination of distance learning (with academic support provision) followed by a dedicated 2-day course. In addition to a short answer questions exam, students will then be assessed on a collection of 12 short professional case exposures that cover a broad range of animal care, animal ‘use’, and species. In these, students will illustrate and reflect on welfare problems, demonstrating their attitude to welfare, and their recognition and analysis of ethical and legal dilemmas.

Attainment of this module is a requirement for candidates studying for the designated RCVS’ Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice (Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law (AWSEL) option). It will provide a mandatory knowledge base for those planning to enrol for C-AWSEL.2 – Applying the Theory, where the theory learnt in this module will be applied in the field of work. This unit is also suitable as a stand-alone professional development course or as a component of a wider qualification for those intending to go on to other further study.

The aim of this unit is to enable the candidate to develop an understanding the fundamental concepts of animal welfare science, ethics and law, and to demonstrate application of that knowledge.

NB students may be required to pay a fee to the RCVS; further information will be given by the School.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate detailed knowledge of the various competing definitions of animal welfare and a working understanding of the main models of animal welfare.
  • Explain and critique the methodologies used to measure animal welfare including physiological and behavioural measurements.
  • Relate how welfare impact is determined in individuals and groups of animals, including trade-offs between these levels.
  • Describe the main consequentialist and non-consequentialist theories of ethics.
  • Show awareness and broad understanding of professional ethics including:
  • - showing understanding of the most widely used ethical frameworks (Five Freedoms and Three Rs) and appropriate applications
  • - being able to relate how ethical decisions are made, including awareness of stakeholder positions and conflicts.
  • Demonstrate an appropriate knowledge of regulatory law underpinning welfare (including how it relates to farm animals) and the role of different parties in this; show awareness of EU law and explain how EU Directives are transposed into UK law.
  • Give an overview of the principal tenets and remit of anticruelty law including the 1911 (1912 Scotland) Act and the Animal Welfare Act. Explicity, explain the role of the expert witness, thus contributing to evidence of the "relevent expertise" required by the RCVS code of conduct to perform this role.
  • Be aware of the scope and limitation of other legislation that impacts on animal welfare such as Abandonment of Animals Act and Performing Animals.
  • Show a critical understanding of the concept of ‘duty of care’.

Teaching Information

Students will be provided with academic content and instruction on the process by which to construct case exposures, initially via e-learning materials or attendance at the lectures within the existing MSc Animal Welfare unit. Teaching materials (consisting of Powerpoint-based lectures with audio content, written notes and selected further reading) will be hosted within a dedicated course on a web-based platform (Blackboard) and also made available in CD format. Throughout the distance learning elements students will also have access to dedicated academic support via email and telephone. They will then attend a 2-day course at the University of Bristol to provide consolidation, supplementary lecture material (featuring additional detail and case studies pertinent to their professional focus), and interactive discussion sessions. The short answer section of the assessment will be carried out in person during the 2-day course.

Assessment Information

Candidates will submit 6 case exposures. Formative feedback will be provided after the first 2. The remaining 4 will be formally assessed and constitute 60% of the assessment. Each will have a case number and date followed by a short paragraph under each of the following subheadings:

Presenting problem

Underlying cause

Action taken


Identification, reflection and conclusion on scientific, ethical and legal* considerations, dilemmas and/or problems relating to animal welfare in this situation. This may include discussion of behavioural and clinical elements where appropriate.

(*) relating the case to UK and to a lesser extent EU law.

An upper limit of 1,000 words will apply to any case exposure and most will be substantially shorter. Cases should be based on the candidate’s personal experience or intended employment.

It is permissible for individual case exposures to emphasise one aspect (science, ethics or law) primarily, though each case exposure should make reference to all three. Each aspect should form the primary focus of at least 1 case within the final portfolio. Cases must cover a broad range of animal species and ‘purpose’ and should include examples from more than one of: farming, horses, laboratory, zoo/circus, companion, wild animals. In addition, students will undertake a one-hour examination by short answer questions with a 50% pass mark (40% of assessment) during the 2-day course.

Reading and References

Appleby, MC and Hughes BO. 1997. Animal Welfare. CAB International. Wallingford, UK

Broom, DM and Johnson KG. 1993. Stress and Animal Welfare. Chapman and Hall, London.

Dawkins, MS. 1981. Animal Suffering: the Science of Animal Welfare. Chapman and Hall, London.

Radford, M. 2001. Animal Welfare Law in Britain. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Tannenbaum, J. 1989. Veterinary Ethics. Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore.