On 31-May-2017, BCLAS organized a workshop for members of Animal Welfare Bodies. With this event, BCLAS aimed at providing education/training to AWB members, but also to identify major challenges (members of) AWBs in Belgium are confronted with. The objective of the WS was also to investigate if and how BCLAS might help in the future. The day took place at the faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Ghent University in Merelbeke who offered the accommodation for free which allowed BCLAS to organize the event with no registration fee.
The day started with a short but interactive introductory session in auditorium Maximum where the participants got a good idea of the rest of the audience (75 people from more than 30 institutes) and could familiarize with the scope of the day. During this session, they received a refresher on the expectations and tasks the AWB needs to fulfill according to the Belgium and EU legislation. Several people were not familiar with and therefore appreciated the link to the EU Expert Working Group guidance document that specifies how the many tasks of the AWB may be fulfilled in practice: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/lab_animals/pdf/guidance/animal_welfare_bodies/en.pdf
After the warming-up, the audience was split up over three other rooms to discuss specific cases in smaller subgroups and to share how each AWB fulfills his tasks. While for some challenges presented in the cases there was general consent on the best way forward, this part (that was too short to discuss all examples prepared by the organizers) also showed that AWBs in Belgium are organized very differently and therefore sometimes also have somewhat different challenges to deal with. Participants could learn from each-others experiences and good practices, and the session also helped to identify clear needs/opportunities for improvement of AWB functioning in Belgium. During the wrap-up of the morning session, there was a lot of consternation about a statement from the Flemish Authorities that in Flanders, according to ‘het Besluit van de Vlaamse regering van 17-feb-2017’ all animal care takers should be part of the AWB. This difference in interpretation of the legislation by the Authorities and the lab animal community clearly illustrated the need for more communication and consultation between both parties involved e.g. on how to implement and run an AWB; an AWB platform could be a discussion partner for the Authorities or for people representing the lab animal community towards the Authorities and could help to give advice and/or help to translate requirements in more concrete recommendations/good practices. (Later BCLAS was informed that after additional investigation the Authorities concluded that at least 1 (senior) animal care taker needs to be incorporated in the AWB; and in addition it is strongly recommended to also involve all other animal care staff in the functioning of the AWB. The latter can be directly or indirectly via the (senior) animal caretaker part of the AWB and who can serve as person in between and point of contact for all animal care takers.)
Before lunch break, Guy De Vroey, president of BCLAS explained what BCLAS stands for and made a call for volunteers to help with the organization of the yearly BCLAS symposium, the organization of workshops, training and communication and to strengthen the BCLAS board.
After lunch Harry Blom, lab animal expert at Utrecht University and chairman of the AWB platform in the Netherlands talked about the role of and experience with an Animal Welfare Body platform in the Netherlands. This platform founded in 2016, has its own chair, secretary and treasurer and represents all AWB’s in the Netherlands with 1 vote per AWB irrespective of number of members in the platform. The members of the platform consist of 2 technicians, 2 vets, 2 animal welfare officers and 2 scientists. Tasks and mission of the platform include exchange of info and experiences among AWBs, representation of the AWBs in the user platform of the CCD (CCD: Centrale Commissie Dierproeven = the Dutch Competent Authority), be consultation member for the NCAD (Nationaal Commité Advies Dierproevenbeleid) and to work out and advice on good practices (e.g. on education/training/skills/CPD of AWB members, use of antibiotics in lab animal science, experimental design, poultry research). (see appendix 3)
Thereafter participants helped to list and define the opportunities to facilitate AWB functioning & effectivity in Belgium and to investigate the potential role for BCLAS (“a BCLAS platform for AWBs”). The majority stated that an AWB platform would have added value. While a platform could help with many tasks, for the participants major goals of the platform could be: to facilitate networking/info sharing and to provide training to AWB members (see appendix 1).
At the end of the day there was an opportunity to participate in an interesting interactive Workshop on Severity Assessment that was much appreciated as it was an eye opener on how difficult correct and consistent assessment can be.
We look back at a successful workshop that succeeded to give an answer on AWB member expectations and opportunity/need for the creation of an AWB platform in Belgium. (See appendix 2) Greatly appreciated was the interactive format/discussions/exchange of info among the participants. Some participants had hoped for more concrete and specific info and training of AWB members, but this is exactly what an AWB platform could help with in the future. A prerequisite for a platform to succeed are volunteers willing and able to invest time and energy to help BCLAS with creating and maintaining the platform. Several people already expressed their willingness to help but extra candidates are still very welcomed.