Measuring animal welfare and applying scientific advances – Why is it still so difficult?

Measuring animal welfare and applying scientific advances – Why is it still so difficult?

UFAW International Symposium 2017
27th-29th June 2017

Royal Holloway, University of London, Surrey, UK

Animal welfare science is a relatively young field but it is developing rapidly. A recent review noted that over the last two decades the number of scientific publications in this area has increased by 10-15% annually. This research has been used to make many real improvements to the welfare of animals throughout the world.

There seems to be a growing consensus that what matters to those animals that are presumed to experience feelings, and therefore what should matter most to those concerned about animal welfare, is how those animals feel. However, this raises difficult questions, some of which are fundamental to the development of animal welfare science as a rigorous scientific discipline and the assessment of animal welfare. For example:

  • Will we ever be able to demonstrate sentience? Knowing where to draw the line about which animals to care for is important to, avoid wasting scarce resources on animals that are not sentient, and to ensure that animals that are sentient are protected. Are there new techniques that could help or is the problem insoluble? Where should the line be drawn?
  • Are the techniques that we have to study emotional state (affect) adequate or are there new and better ways of assessing how animals feel about themselves and their environment? How should we best choose and interpret measures? Do technological advances offer us alternative approaches? Is it worth trying to put a numerical value on animal welfare or are qualitative measures more appropriate?
  • How does time fit into the equation? Over what period of time should welfare be considered – what is meaningful and relevant to the animal? Do animals experience time as we do? How should we weigh up the challenges and good experiences to come so as to arrive at a view about the animals lifetime experience, and is this worth doing?
  • How important is positive welfare? Should preventing suffering be our first priority or should we now be looking to maximise enjoyable experiences for animals in our care too? Is a permanent state of positive welfare possible, or do animals reset their emotional state so that attempts to achieve positive welfare are doomed to failure as the animal habituates to a better than adequate environment? What happens when those experiences preferred by an animal have a long-term negative impact on health?
  • How robust is the data collected on animal welfare? Are there lessons to be learnt from other areas of research with respect to e.g. blinding, randomization, pre-registration of hypotheses, null results, meta-analysis, clinical trials?

With the aim of developing new ideas and of promoting higher quality and better-focused animal welfare science, this three day symposium will consider whether and how animal welfare scientists can make progress in these and other areas.

The symposia will feature the following keynote talks:

  • Professor Georgia Mason (University of Guelph, Canada), ‘Using welfare indicators to make valid inference about animals’ subjective states, with a focus on HPA responses and stereotypic behaviour’
  • Professor Mike Mendl (University of Bristol, UK) ‘Animal affect: What is it, what do we know, and what can we know?’ and
  • Professor Jaak Panksepp (Washington State University, USA) ‘The emotional feelings of other minds: From neuroaffective foundations to novel therapeutics (especially depressions)’

Biographies of these keynote speakers can be found here.

Call for papers

We would like to hear from anyone interested in making a contribution to the symposium on the subjects and themes detailed above or others relating to measuring animal welfare and to animal welfare and the sciences and other disciplines associated with it – eg applied ethology, veterinary, physiological and neuroscience.

Submissions should feature the title of the proposed presentation, the nature of the presentation – talk or poster, and the name and full contact details of all contributors. Abstracts must be in English and should be no longer than 400 words. Full details on formatting these can be found on the UFAW website. Time allocated to talks at the meeting is likely to be in region of 20-25 minutes.

More details can be found here. 

The deadline for submission of abstracts is 30th November 2016.

Symposium timetable

  • Deadline for submission of abstracts – 30th November 2016
  • Accommodation booking at Royal Holloway opens – 1st November 2016
  • Notification of decision of judging panel on submitted abstracts – by 1stFebruary 2017
  • End of early registration fee – 1st March 2016
  • Deadline for receipt of amendments to accepted abstracts – 15th May 2017
  • Start of symposium 27th July


The symposium is being held in the Windsor Building Conference Centre, part of the campus at Royal Holloway, University of London over three days.

Royal Holloway is located in countryside close to Windsor and is a short train journey from central London and a fifteen minute drive on the M25 from Heathrow airport.

The symposium will feature a drinks reception on the evening of the 27thwhich will include a guided tour of The Founder’s Building Picture Gallery, which contains world-class paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and watercolours including works by William Powell Frith, John Everett Millais and Edward Burne-Jones, followed by a three course dinner.

On the evening of the 28th a BBQ will be held in the South Quadrangle of The Founder’s Building for all delegates.

More details on the venue, accommodation and how to get to it can be foundhere.

Registration and accommodation details

The registration fee for the symposium is £450 (with a reduced rate of £395 available to delegates who register before 1st March). A limited number of subsidised places are also available to students, veterinary nurses or those who are unwaged who wish to attend the symposium at £280. These will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

The registration fee includes attendance, lunch and refreshments over the three days and the drinks reception and dinner on the evening of 27th and a BBQ on the 28th.

Payment can be made on-line or by sending a completed registration form, with payment details, by fax or post to the UFAW office or by telephone. Clickhere for further details. You can also register on line here.

Accommodation is available on campus but has to be booked separately. Rooms start from £46.50 per night. Click on this link for further details. Please note that bookings cannot be taken until 1st November 2016.

Residential delegates can also make use of the Sports Centre and its 46 station fitness suite and changing facilities.

Other details

The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), the international animal welfare science society, is a UK registered scientific and educational animal welfare charity. The organisation brings together the animal welfare science community, educators, veterinary surgeons and all concerned about animal welfare worldwide in order to achieve advances in the well-being of farm, companion, laboratory and captive wild animals, and for those animals with which we interact in the wild.

UFAW works to improve animals’ lives by:

  • Promoting and supporting developments in the science and technology that underpin advances in animal welfare.
  • Promoting and supporting education in animal care and welfare.
  • Providing information, organising symposia, conferences and meetings, and publishing books, videos, technical reports and the international quarterly peer-reviewed scientific journal Animal Welfare.
  • Providing expert advice to governments and other bodies and helping to draft and amend laws and guidelines.

UFAW is an independent organisation, and throughout its history its work has primarily been funded by donations, subscriptions and legacies.

Contact details

Stephen Wickens, Royal Holloway 2017, UFAW, The Old School, Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, AL4 8AN, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1582 831818; Fax: +44 (0) 1582 831414; Website:;

Author: Argie