CORVALLIS - Three Oregon State University faculty members from the Animal Sciences Department have received national acclaim for developing and teaching a course that challenges students to discuss and debate ethical issues about the treatment of animals in production agriculture and scientific research.
The Humane Society of the United States selected their course, "Ethical Issues in Animal Agriculture," (Animal Sciences 420), to receive the society's 2003 Animals & Society Course Award.
"This is a wonderful honor for the Animal Sciences department and well-deserved recognition for faculty members Steven Davis (professor emeritus) who developed the course, and Candace Croney and Kelvin Koong who teach it," said Jim Males, head of the OSU Animal Sciences Department.
"The award is very encouraging because it shows that we are doing something right with this course," said Croney, who specializes in bioethics and animal behavior. "The OSU Animal Sciences Department has been a national leader in finding ways to provide students with ethical perspectives on animal agriculture.
"It's gratifying to have an organization like the Humane Society acknowledge our efforts," she added.
Presented annually by the Humane Society, the award recognizes academic excellence in the design and instruction of a college-level academic course that introduces students to ethical concerns about society's use and management of animals. It includes a $1,500 cash prize given to the institutional department offering the course.
The Humane Society of the United States is a national organization that promotes the protection of all animals. The society conducts a wide range of activities and programs aimed at raising public awareness about the treatment of animals with the goal of combating animal abuse and exploitation.
The Ethical Issues in Animal Agriculture course is required for all OSU animal science majors and is a writing intensive course where students are encouraged to develop and practice written communication skills. The course is offered fall, winter and spring terms.
The emphasis in the course is to introduce ethical decision-making concepts and then provide students with opportunities to apply the concepts during in-class discussions of controversial situations in animal agriculture, Croney explained.
"This course is a crucial component of the education we deliver to animal science students because it helps them look at society's use of animals from another point of view," said Croney. "All of our students get a broad-based background in animal science from the standpoint of animal production. However, this encourages students to view animals primarily as end-products rather than as living, conscious beings. The ethics course helps students broaden their outlook on how other members of society see and value animals."
Animal Sciences Department faculty decided to add an ethics course to the curriculum because "many agricultural practices involving the use animals have become increasingly controversial over the past two decades," said Davis, who initially developed the course in 1999. Prior to the introduction of ANS 420, the department had no course that addressed such issues.
Davis noted that, during his 30-year career as an animal scientist, he has seen a shift in social values about how animals are treated in agricultural production.
"For many years our top priority was finding ways to produce an abundant and affordable food supply for U.S. citizens," Davis said. "To achieve this goal, animal scientists focused on improving production efficiency while paying less attention to problems associated with streamlined production systems."
For example, Davis explained, factory farming systems that concentrate cattle in feedlots, or confine chickens in large poultry houses help to maximize production but create environmental problems such as intense build-up of animal waste material in a small area.
"Also, there is the moral question of whether it is right to confine an animal that, left on its own, would range over a broad open area," he said.
"Throughout the country we are seeing expression of a new social ethic that essentially says animals have to be allowed to live according to their own nature," said Davis.
"As more and more questions are raised about how animals are treated in agriculture, it has become more and more important for animal scientists to examine, from an ethical perspective, what we do with animals and why."