We are preprogrammed to care for and protect vulnerable young, and it is really important for farmers to acknowledge that this is what motivates them to do the very best they can to look after newborn animals.
PROFESSOR DAVID MELLOR
A fetal and neonatal physiologist at Massey’s School of Veterinary Science, Professor David Mellor has a strong belief in using science to make a practical difference. Much of his research over the past five decades has involved the study of sheep, with an eye to human medicine.
‘The sheep has been used for at least seventy years as the primary model for exploring the mechanisms of pregnancy, birth and neonatal survival for application to human beings,’ Professor Mellor explains. ‘Its use as a scientific model led to a wide spectrum of applications, from agricultural, veterinary and fundamental science through to biomedical and clinical management of newborn infants. This has been a major issue and source of satisfaction, enjoyment and interest over my entire career.’
With colleagues in the UK, Professor Mellor developed a lambing management system that substantially improved lamb survival. ‘If you understand what can go wrong in terms of physiological impairment during pregnancy and the birth process, you can devise rather simple procedures that accommodate those problems,’ he says. ‘It is a classic example of fundamental science taken into the field and explored there with practical benefits.’
The farming industry’s drive to prevent perinatal mortality in lambs has traditionally been motivated by a wish to improve animal production and reduce financial losses, but Professor Mellor believes this is only part of the story. ‘Farmers are “supposed” to care about animal losses only in economic terms,’ he says. ‘However, implicitly — but never explicitly stated — people are, in fact, unhappy about newborn lambs dying.’ He impresses upon farmers that expressing their wish to prevent lamb losses as solely an economic matter completely misses a fundamental aspect of being human. ‘We are preprogrammed to care for and protect vulnerable young, and it is really important for farmers to acknowledge that this is what motivates them to do the very best they can to look after newborn animals.’
Professor Mellor is deeply involved in bioethics. He established Massey’s Animal Welfare Science Research Group, which developed a significant reputation nationally and internationally and drove the establishment of Massey’s Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, of which he is foundation director. ‘I would regard myself as an ethically literate scientist, rather than an expert, and I feel very comfortable in the social sciences context,’ he says.
My approach is to provide insights that enable scientists and others to discover their ethical integrity.
PROFESSOR DAVID MELLOR
Professor Mellor has a special interest in discussions about the use of animals in science, and how that can be done ethically. He has served as executive vice-chairperson of the Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching (ANZCCART), as a member of the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee, and had a key role in the development of the Animal Welfare Act 1999. Following this, he was appointed chair of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, with responsibility to guide the committee through the process of taking the generalities of the Animal Welfare Act into the particularities of how animal welfare could be managed in New Zealand.
One of his concerns is promoting the responsible and humane use of animals in research teaching and testing procedures. ‘It’s very important for those engaged in animal-based science to understand what the objections are to it, and to have thought them through to work out the limits that they would impose on themselves. My approach is to provide insights that enable scientists and others to discover their ethical integrity; to discover within themselves what the foundations of their value judgements are, and how those foundations lead them to arrive at the conclusions that they do. No single ethical theory can encompass every decision we need to make, so we use an amalgam of ethical theories to assist us to navigate our way through problems.’
Professor Mellor has received many awards for his contributions to animal welfare science and the practical management of animal care, including appointment as an Honorary Associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, UK, and as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. In 2015, he was awarded the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare medal for outstanding international contributions to animal welfare science. Together with his colleagues in the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, he was a recipient of the 2016 Massey University Medal for Team Research Excellence.
‘I have, from the very beginning, taken an integrative holist position regarding all the areas in which I’ve worked,’ he says. ‘New Zealand has allowed me to achieve things I would never have been able to otherwise. If you are willing and open to do it, you can participate in all sorts of developments in the application of science.’