Seven students from the School of Veterinary Medicine are traveling to Italy this week to see how European societies ensure that their animals—and the foods those animals produce—remain healthy and safe.
“Europe is known for its progressive animal welfare laws,” says Kate Very, a rising third-year student at Penn Vet. “We wanted to put together a trip that would focus on animal welfare and also the legislative aspects of public policy, which are areas we don’t get that much exposure to in school.”
Very and fellow third-year student Christiana Fischer developed the idea of an immersive, two-week-long course in Europe. They enlisted the help of Carlo Siracusa, director of Penn Vet’s Behavior Service, who has expertise in both animal behavior and welfare. He played a key role in coordinating and designing the trip, working with colleagues at the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell’Abruzzo e del Molise (IZS) in Teramo, Italy.
Earlier this spring, Very and Fischer won a Student Inspiration Award, with $12,500 in prize money, to help establish the course. Further support for the trip came from student fundraisers, a $5,000 grant from Assocarni/Zoetis, and collaboration with the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Siracusa says there are a number of reasons why Europe tends to be stricter when it comes to animal welfare regulations.
“I think there is a public sensibility that is strongly in favor of animal welfare, and it probably also has to do with the fact that there is a longstanding food culture in many parts of Europe,” he says “The quality of food is a pillar of culture in a country like Italy, so this is a way to protect the quality of the product.”
As an example, Siracusa notes that while many American poultry farms chill chicken carcasses in chlorine baths to reduce pathogens, Europeans are turned off by this practice, and instead perform rigorous salmonella tests, discarding whole flocks if they test positive. As a result, European poultry is more expensive.
Such differences have implications for international trade, a timely topic given impending negotiations to create the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States.
In addition to classroom lectures on animal welfare, food safety, epidemiology, and public policy, students will take field trips to a slaughterhouse, a dairy farm, a poultry house, animal shelters, and a national park.
“The field trips will give us a chance to actually see what we’re learning in the classroom,” Very says. “It will be interesting to learn how European veterinarians and legislators have implemented practices like country-wide, no-kill animal shelters. We’d like to bring some of those ideals back over to the U.S.”
Once they complete this first trip, Very and Fischer would like to expand the program, offering future Penn Vet students an annual opportunity to gain an international perspective on animal welfare.
The students will be blogging about their trip at https://pennwetravels.wordpress.com/.