Animal welfare

Brown cow grassing


  1. What are the total potential welfare costs and/or gains to the animals involved in the development of the vaccine?
  2. What are the potential welfare costs and/or gains to the animals to which the vaccine is to be applied?
  3. Could the potential welfare gains of MycoSynVac have been achieved by different methods (more room, better living conditions, etc.)?

1. What are the total potential welfare costs and/or gains to the animals involved in the development of the vaccine?

In the research and development phase of a project like MycoSynVac some animals are subjected to unavoidable suffering or pain, as part of the research process. The amount of suffering that research animals are subjected to will depend on the timeline, complexity, and success of the project, and thus cannot be determined prior to commencement of the research. Although plans to reduce and avoid suffering as much as possible should be formulated, following a form of a harm-benefit assessment, before any animal models are employed (for a critical discussion of the idea of harm-benefit assessment in animals used for experiments see (Grimm, Olsson, & Sandøe, 2018)). The potential outcomes of the research should be considered, and it should be asked whether the use of animals is justified by the expected benefits. The assessment should cover both intended and unintended outcomes. Animal models are generally considered to be less controversial in research that has the potential to reduce human morbidity and mortality (i.e. where there is a potential for large benefit gains). They tend to be considered more ethically dubious in other areas such as the cosmetics industry (Olsson, Varga, & Sandøe, 2015) and animal production.

Animals are widely used in research and development in the biosciences, and their use as such does not represent an insurmountable ethical challenge. However, in all cases where animals are used, there is a need to justify the specific use in light of the so-called 3Rs: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. Replacement seeks to replace research animals, and especially higher animals, by using alternative methods which either do not involve animals at all or use animals with less highly developed sentience. (Whether using animals with lower sentience is in fact more ethical is controversial. It is not clear whether sentience or the capacity to suffer should take precedence here. See (Sandøe, Franco, Lund, Weary, & Olsson, 2015) for more on this). Wholesale replacement of research animals by, for example, computer simulations would seem to be the best solution, all else being equal, but of course, such replacement is not always possible. This leads to the goal of reduction. Reduction involves using fewer animals to reach the same scientific goal. This requires more careful experimental designs and better measurements in order to gain the same quantity and quality of experimental data from the smaller number of animals. Lastly, MycoSynVac should aim to refine the methods used to carry out animal experiments with a view to inflicting less harm on the animals that continue to be used in the research. Such refinement can often be achieved by re-designing experimental methods so that the same experiment takes place with less harm done. However, refinement might also lead to methods that employ a larger number of animals, albeit with each animal experiencing only a small amount of harm. This is of course in conflict with the aim of reduction and as a result, dilemmas may arise over the most ethical approach. More on this issue can be found in the paper cited above (Sandøe et al., 2015). 

It should be noted that the ethical reasoning about MycoSynVac assumes that welfare gains will potentially benefit the animal populations that suffer from the diseases MycoSynVac is designed to prevent. However, any such potential welfare gains must be viewed in relation to the potential suffering caused by the research and development process. In other words, the animal welfare that is sacrificed during the development process must be counted if it is asserted that the total welfare outcome for the animals is a net positive.

Quick points

  • MycoSynVac should consider the possibility of replacing research animals with other methods such as computer simulations
  • MycoSynVac should aim to reduce the use of research animals by using sophisticated research methods that allow for the greatest amount of data to be gathered from the smallest number of animals
  • MycoSynVac should aim to refine animal research processes to minimize the harm done to each animal
  • MycoSynVac should assess whether the scientific goals of a given research project are commensurate with the harm that is likely to be done to the research animals during the research

2. What are the potential welfare costs and/or gains to the animals to which the vaccine is to be applied?

The answer to this question largely depends on the likelihood of the research leading to the development of a successful vaccine that is also efficient and cheap enough to be widely adopted. Obviously, if the project does not deliver a vaccine for the market, or produces a vaccine that is too inefficient or expensive to be widely adopted, the potential welfare gains for animals will not be realized. However, if concerns about adoption rates are put to one side, there are potentially significant welfare gains to be had for the animals on which the vaccine is targeted. Animals suffering from M. Bovis, or from similar diseases for which there are no known vaccines, suffer a significant drop in welfare when they are infected – not only in terms of the pain associated with the disease, but also in terms of the risk of stunted development or even death. Moreover, the current practice in most countries is to cull animals that are diagnosed with M. Bovis. Vaccines for such diseases would therefore deliver a significant welfare gain to animals. This is obviously true for diseases where no vaccine is currently available, but gains can also be expected in connection with diseases where vaccines are currently available – at least, as long as the synthetic alternative is more efficient either in its effectiveness or cost. A more efficient inoculation technique would lead to broader adoption of the vaccine, leading in turn to less culling and less serious reductions in animal welfare.

In terms of bringing a MycoSynVac product to the market, a reduction in the per-animal cost of any resultant vaccine would lead to the widest possible adoption of the vaccine, and thereby to the largest welfare benefit for the animals. This can be contrasted with strategies for bringing a product to market that might have a higher per-animal cost while generating a similar or equivalent profit. It also underlines the importance of the success of the project, as failure would lead to the same or a higher cost to the research animals (as a result of the continued research on them), while the benefits would not materialize.

Quick points

  • There are potentially large welfare gains for the animals eventually inoculated with the vaccine
  • This emphasizes the importance of the success of the MycoSynVac project as a whole
  • In order to maximize the welfare gains for the animals, MycoSynVac should aim to keep the per-animal cost of a vaccine as low as possible, in order to ensure its broadest possible adoption

3. Could the potential welfare gains of MycoSynVac have been achieved by different methods (more room, better living conditions, etc.)?

When it is argued that animal welfare gains will be secured by the success of the MycoSynVac project, the obvious question is “gained in relation to what?” The claim that welfare has been gained implicitly assumes a baseline state of affairs in relation to which the gain has been made.

The obvious comparison here is with the status quo. In other words, the claim would be that animals will be better off than they are now if MycoSynVac is a success. This claim depends on information about three things. First, we need an accurate assessment of the overall welfare levels of current livestock. Second, we need an accurate assessment of the current welfare cost of the diseases that MycoSynVac will, if successful, prevent. Third, we need to know more about the specific implementation of a potential vaccine.

The first two of these enquiries are largely empirical in nature. The third enquiry is a more normative one, i.e. it is about how we intend to implement the vaccine. If the vaccine is used as a tool permitting living conditions to be artificially kept at a minimum standard under ever more efficient conditions, then there will have been no real welfare gain for the animals. But if a vaccine raises the welfare of the animals, under the current conditions of production, to some level above the current minimum, a real welfare gain will have been realized.

It is also important to reflect on whether comparison with the status quo is justified. It may be said that the relevant comparison is instead with the situation in which a vaccine is not implemented, but in which the animals are given more room and better living conditions. The provision of more room and better living conditions has been shown to lower the incidence of mycoplasma diseases (Tagawa, Ybanez, Matsumoto, Yokoyama, & Inokuma, 2012). It also delivers a host of other welfare gains for the animals. With this comparison, it might be argued that although MycoSynVac could deliver lowered rates of disease, those rates could equally be delivered by other measures of prevention. So, vaccination does not represent the best solution if it is implemented instead of those other measures: the best solution is for vaccination to be used in combination with them.

Quick points

  • If MycoSynVac is to claim that there is a gain to animal welfare, this must be contrasted with the feasibility of other potential methods of gaining the same welfare for the animals
  • If gains to animal welfare are to be realized, MycoSynVac needs to ensure that the resultant vaccine is employed in a way that actually benefits animal welfare rather than a tool merely enabling farmers to maintain current levels of welfare in a more efficient production environment



Grimm, H., Olsson, A. I., & Sandøe, P. (2018). Harm–benefit analysis – what is the added value? A review of alternative strategies for weighing harms and benefits as part of the assessment of animal research. Laboratory Animals. 1-11. 

Olsson, A. S., Varga, O., & Sandøe, P. (2015). A Matter of Importance: Considering Benefit in Animal Ethics Review. ALTEX Proceedings 4(1).

Sandøe, P., Franco, N. H., Lund, T. B., Weary, D. M., & Olsson, A. S. (2015). Harms to Animals – Can We Agree on How Best to Limit Them? ALTEX Proceedings 4(1), 28-32. 

Tagawa, M., Ybanez, A. P., Matsumoto, K., Yokoyama, N., & Inokuma, H. (2012). Prevalence and Risk Factor Analysis of Bovine Hemoplasma Infection by Direct PCR in Eastern Hokkaido, Japan. Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 74(9), 1171–1176.