Forensic Aspects of Agricultural Animal Welfare

VME 6572


This course will introduce agricultural animal welfare with a focus on the legal aspects associated with abusive care of agricultural animals. This course explores scientific and ethical dialogue on agricultural animal welfare issues. Completing this course will provide an understanding of current U.S. laws governing agricultural animal welfare as well as the ability to minimally evaluate and assess the welfare of an agricultural animal.


Module Topic
Week 1 Defining animal welfare

  • Evolution of AW as an independent science
  • Intro to scientific concepts of AW
  • AW as it relates to veterinary forensic medicine
  • Agricultural animal welfare investigations
  • Introduction to US federal and state laws as it pertains to agricultural animals
Week 2 Ethics, legislation, and animal welfare

  • Introduction to schools of thought in regards to animal welfare

From ethics to legislation

Week 3 Measuring welfare: Behavioral indicators

  • Review of current frameworks for measuring AW (5 Freedoms, etc.)
  • Behavioral abnormalities indicative of poor welfare
Week 4 Measuring welfare: Physiological indicators

  • Definitions of stress, distress and suffering
  • Impact of stress, distress and suffering on the hypothalamic-adrenal axes
  • Neurobiology of the stress response
  • Roles of neurobiology in adaptive responses
  • Assessment techniques
  • Behavioral deprivation, sensory inadequacies, over-taxation, and diseases
  • Assessing fear and the effects of fear
Week 5 Measuring welfare: Production and health measures

  • Common production and health measures to assess overall animal welfare
  • Assessing and measuring stress
  • Veterinary forensic examinations of agricultural animals
  • Body condition scoring systems
Week 6 Animal welfare and pain

  • Integration of information to understand potential causes of animal suffering
  • Common causes of pain
  • Defining pain
  • Measuring pain
  • Perception of pain and pain control
  • Common potentially painful interventions and methods of pain control
Week 7 Select AW issues by species: Poultry

  • Standard practices of industrial production and alternatives
  • Impacts on AW of chickens
  • Case example
Week 8 Select AW issues by species: Cattle

  • Standard practices of industrial production and alternatives
  • Impacts on AW of cattle
Week 9 Select AW issues by species: Swine

  • Standard practices of industrial production and alternatives
  • Impacts on AW of pigs
Week 10 Select AW issues by species: Horses

  • Standard practices of industries that use horses and alternatives
  • Impacts on AW of horses
Week 11 Select AW issues by species: Goats, sheep, other

  • Standard practices and alternatives
  • Impacts on AW of goats, sheep, other
Week 12 Economics of animal welfare

  • Introduction to economics
  • Conflict between ethics and economics
  • Economic aspects of animal welfare
Week 13 Animal welfare judging/assessment exercise

  • Based on a model by Michigan State University, students are given case studies and asked to evaluate behavioral, physiological, health, and management information to AW in two or more production systems
Week 14 Current animal welfare standards and assessment

  • Current welfare standards, private and government
  • Expected future trends: a look at AW-related legislation abroad
  • Assessment schemes and types of audits
Week 15 Agricultural animal abuse investigations and prosecution

  • Case law
  • Application of specific state and federal laws
  • Case examples
Week 16 Final Exam