FEB 05, 2014 11:00 AM PST

A Good Life for Laboratory Animals

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  • Associate Dean, Graduate Studies; Professor, Applied Biology; Animal Welfare Program; NSERC Industri, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, Canada
      Dan is a Professor and NSERC Industrial Research Chair at The University of British Columbia. Dan's research focuses on developing behavioral measures for the objective assessment of animal welfare and developing practical methods of improving the welfare of farm animals, lab animals and wildlife. His scientific work on laboratory animals has focused on euthanasia, especially developing humane methods for euthanasia of rats, mice and zebra fish; new work is examining the effects of enriched housing systems on welfare and cognition in rats. Recent survey-based work has focused on describing the attitudes of people around contentious issues in agriculture and laboratory animal use.


    Almost all discussion to date on the ethics of animal use in research has revolved around the balance of harms (to the animals) versus benefits (to us) associated with conducting the research. For this reason, most research on the welfare of laboratory animals has focused on harm reduction, including methods of handling and euthanasia that are less likely to cause pain or distress. I briefly review recent examples of this approach concluding that this approach is necessary but not sufficient. Focus in the animal welfare literature is now shifting from simply reducing harms that we cause to animals to promoting positive experiences; the question has become do the animals under our care experience a good life? Achieving a good life may require that we provide environments that allow animals to express natural behaviors that they are motivated to perform and provide opportunities for positive emotional experiences, such that positive experiences far outweigh negative ones. Recent research in animal welfare science has begun to develop methods for identifying and assessing positive emotional states and assessing how animals view their own condition. Judgments regarding a good life for laboratory animals ultimately require public input, and researchers must seek out effective methods for informed engagement with the public on the quality of living conditions we provide for the animals under our care.

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