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Past Projects

Supported by the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection.

Duration: 1.9.2018 - 28.2.2019

Project leader: Univ-Prof. Dr. Herwig Grimm, Messerli Research Institute, Unit of Ethics and Human-Animal Studies (Vetmeduni Vienna, University of Vienna, Medical University of Vienna)

Substantive leadership: Dr. Christian Dürnberger, Messerli Research Institute, Unit of Ethics and Human-Animal Studies (Vetmeduni Vienna, University of Vienna, Medical University of Vienna)

Cooperation partner: Institute of Philosophy, Chair of Applied Ethics, Professor Angela Kallhoff

New breeding methods – such as CRISPR/Cas – are revolutionizing both plant breeding and animal breeding. In many of these methods, no foreign genes or gene constructs are introduced into a genetic material, but the existing genetic material is edited. The “Ethical Delphi” interviews relevant stakeholders of the debate in Austria in several survey waves on these new technologies. The survey focuses on two issues:

(1) Key goods and values in the debate;
(2) Desirable and undesirable future scenarios around the new breeding methods in Austria.

The overarching aim is to make the positions within the discussion visible and to work out on which points there is consensus – and how the dissent on other questions is ethically justified.

Term: December 15, 2012 – March 31, 2016

Project leader: Univ.Prof. Dr. Herwig Grimm

Project collaborators: Dr. Vera Marashi, Dr. Norbert Alzmann

funded by the Federal Ministry for Science and Research

By now, there was no standardized method for the evaluation of animal experiment proposals and for the harm-benefit analysis on the basis of objective criteria. The aim of the project was to develop such a methodology in order to evaluate research projects including animal experiments also from an ethical point of view. The background of this aim was the new Animal Experiments Act that came into effect on January 1, 2013.

When transposing the EU directive 2010/63/EU into national law, the development of a catalogue of criteria for an objective harm-benefit analysis by the end of 2015 was established in the Austrian Animal Experiments Act. This catalogue of criteria, based on scientific expertise, was developed at the Messerli Research Institute. It will be practical in order to enable an objective harm-benefit analysis, considering ethical aspects. Against the backdrop of already existing sets of criteria and based on the experience from former commission work and proposals, this catalogue of criteria was developed in an interdisciplinary project.


Symposium on March 27, 2013


Method to carry out the harm-benefit analysis (in German)


Endreport (in German)


International Conference VETHICS FOR VETS

Project duration: 2012-2015

Scientific coordination: MMag. Kerstin Weich

Founded by the austrian ministry of health

Further information: vethics(at)

Significant and obvious change is taking place in our Western societies with regard to human-animal interaction. On the one hand, animals are considered family members. On the other hand, they appear to be mere production units like in the context of farming. On the one hand, farm animals like pigs, cows and chicken are raised to become tasty food. On the other hand, biologically relatively similar animals are perceived as invaluable family members. The relationship between man and animals is changing and gathers a lot of media attention. These developments have consequences for professionals dealing with animals. Veterinarians are in the front line whenever and wherever practical decisions have to be made.Especially veterinary officers often find themselves in a field of tensions between economic limitations, animal protection, political interests, legal requirements and media attention. This is particularly true when it comes to unpopular measures, such as killing healthy animals, animal hoarding, culling and slaughtering. On the one hand, they are responsible for securing animal interests. On the other hand, they are as well in charge of public interests. In all these instances, one of the main challenges is to mediate between human and animal interests within a social context and within practical constraints. One of the main ideas of the project is to explore ethical dimension of practical day-to-day life of official veterinarians. Consequently, the link between professional experience and practical problems with ethical theory gains importance. Questions about the normative background of this profession and ways to use this background to solve practical problems arise. Since official veterinarians regularly have to deal with decisions that incorporate moral aspects, it is worthwhile to reflect on the ethical background of their professional life. The project aims for providing frameworks for veterinary officers in Austria in order to support their dealing with ethical conflicts in every-day-work within close cooperation between veterinary officers and ethicists.



Humane killing of Animals 

Cadaver - Creature - Cutlet. Culling and Slaughter


Animals - Living Ressources?

The Overburdening Human

Date: 17. - 18. September 2015

Place: Ceremony Hall, University of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinärplatz 1, 1210 Wien

Conference programme


Public sessions: 


Companion Animal Welfare and Veterinary Medicine – What is the Role of the Veterinary Profession?

Prof. Peter Sandoe  (Section for Consumption, Bioethics and Governance, University of Kopenhagen, DK)

Veterinary Ethics and New Moral Status for Animals

Prof. Bernard E. Rollin (Department of Philosophy, Colorado State University, USA)


Further speakers:


Christian Dürnberger Messerli Research Institute, Section Human-Animal-Studies Vienna

Dr. Pascal Eitler Max Planck-Institute for Human Development, Berlin, GER

Dr. Andrew Gardiner Royal (Dick) School für veterinärmedizinische Studien, Universität Edinborough, UK                 

Dr. Lindsay Hamilton Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Keele University, UK

Dr. des. André Krebber LOEWE-Focus, Chair of History, University of Kassel, GER

Prof. Peter Kunzmann University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation TiHo

Dr. Franck L. B. Meijboom Department of Animals in Science and Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht, NL

Dr. Kate Millar Centre for Applied Bioethics, Faculty of Science, University of Nottingham, UK

Prof. Dr. Mieke Roscher (LOEWE-Research Focus, Chair of History, University of Kassel, GER)

Praxisnahes Handbuch zur Umsetzung der EU-Tierversuchsrichtlinie 2010/63/EU

Practical manual for the transposition of the EU directive 2010/63/EU on animal experiments

Term: March 2012 - December 2013

Project leader: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Herwig Grimm

Operational  executive: Dr. Norbert Alzmann

The legal framework of animal experiments is defined in a EU directive which has been transposed into national law by the end of 2012. In this occasion a cooperation project was initiated by the unit Ethics and Human-Animal Studies at the Messerli Research Institute, the documentation center of animal welfare and veterinary legislation at the University of Veterinary Medicine, the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna. A practical manual for researchers and committee members to realize normative demands in the field of animal experiments was developed.

The 3R are essential:

  • Replacement
  • Refinement
  • Reduction

The manual will support researchers and committee members in their scientific responsibility. Scientific, legal and ethical aspects are reflected and brought together against the background of the new directive.

The manual is aimed at

  • illustrating the backgrounds of scientific, legal and ethical aspects of animal experiments
  • providing practical guidelines for applications and committee work


Staff: Herwig Grimm, Svenja Springer

Project period: November 2014 until June 2015

Project participants: in cooperation with stakeholders and animal welfare scientists in farm-animal context

In cooperation with Austrian Ministry of Health

The treatment of livestock has been the subject of increasingly controversial debate. Particularly painful interventions like castrating piglets or debudding calves are called into question and the need to search for alternatives is more and more urgent. The aim of this project was to provide a clear overview and description of currently performed, painful interventions in farm-animals. Their advantages and disadvantages in terms of animal welfare and economic aspects as well as implementation related issues were debated. In the discussion process four current interventions in industrial agriculture were discussed:

1)    castrating piglets,
2)    tail docking in piglets, 
3)    debudding calves, and
4)    debudding kits.

In total, eleven workshops, each lasting four hours, with 15 to 20 participants were carried out. The methodology used was an adapted ethical matrix.
The first step dealt with the problem description, which should be solved by the standard intervention of the current practice, such as sexual odour of boars in case of castrating piglets. In a second step solutions (in terms of alternatives) were identified and described. The third working step included a differentiated analysis of alternatives regarding their advantages and disadvantages in respect to animal welfare, economic aspects and implementation issues. The alternatives were discussed and assessed by stakeholders and scientists. The results of the discussions were documented in a completed ethical matrix.
By using this approach all different positions within this controversial debate on painful interventions in farm-animals could be taken into account. Furthermore solid information could be provided for every single intervention. Now, these results can serve as a basis for the political decision-making process.

We would like to thank all participants for the interesting and constructive cooperation!

Matrix castrating piglets (in German)

Matrix tail docking in piglets (in German)

Matrix debudding calves (in German)

Matrix debudding kits (in German)

A bioethical analysis and evaluation of SCNT cloning in nonhuman mammalians

Doctoral project of Samuel Camenzind

The project is aimed at an analysis and an evaluation of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer Cloning (SCNT cloning) with adult cells in nonhuman mammalians. The focus of the evaluation is on the development of an instrumentalization criterion which can be used to distinguish different forms of instrumentalization on the one hand and to compare SCNT cloning with other reproduction technologies on the other hand.

By developing an instrumentalization criterion, the project will contribute to the investigation of ethically relevant criteria within animal ethics and bioethics. It also aims at providing orientation in the ethical evaluation of animal cloning and at defining the relation between SCNT cloning and other reproduction technologies concerning instrumentalization.


Building on the findings of her PhD thesis (where she had explored culture, language, and theory of mind in animals and their ethical relevance), Judith Benz-Schwarzburg extended her research interests from 2014 on to the area of morality in animals. Under this label, abilities like empathy, (altruistic) helping, fairness, cooperation/social interaction and inequity aversion in animals come into focus. It is time to link new empirical findings on such abilities in animals with philosophical discussions, e.g. with the debate about moral agents vs. moral subjects or the discussions on personhood and animal rights. From a scientific as well as a philosophical perspective, the central question seems to what extend we can speak about morality in animals in a meaningful way. Dealing with this question requires an understanding of studies from comparative cognition, but it also requires the philosophical skills to provide a valid interpretation of such studies with reference to moral theory.

Judith Benz-Schwarzburg’s research was embedded in the MFI pig cognition project that started in 2014. Within this project she investigated the ethical relevance of the social and cognitive capacities specifically for pigs. The preparatory phase of research on morality in animals and the research done during the pig project greatly helped to submit a Stand-alone Project to the Austrian Research Fund (FWF), which was approved in 2018. The subsequent project started in September 2018.
Link to the FWF project

Postdoc project by Judith Benz-Schwarzburg (2014-2017) and Susana Monsó (2017)

This project was financed by the Messerli Foundation and conducted by researchers of all three Messerli Units together.

Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg from the Ethics unit explored complex socio-cognitive abilities in pigs from an ethical perspective. In the papers and presentations that she prepared during the project time she argued that complex socio-cognitive abilities in animals in general and in pigs in specific give rise to welfare implications and to implications beyond welfare. She discussed her ethical findings in connection with psychological and sociological aspects. Benz-Schwarzburg also incorporated in her ethical consideration new developments in the biotech and livestock sector (e.g. the successful gene-editing of super-muscly pigs). For the last period of the project, Dr. Susana Monsó (also a philosopher by training) joined the project.

In general, the use of pigs for meat production is the main area of ethical concern in the human-pig relationship. Furthermore, a comparison between dogs and pigs proves to be illuminating, given the possibly similar socio-cognitive capacities of these species in contrast to their obviously divergent moral status: Whereas dogs enjoy the moral status of “beloved pets”, pigs are perceived as “delicious pork”. From an ethical perspective the reasons for such a divergent moral status often seem dissatisfactory and their analysis asks for an interdisciplinary approach.

Besides such applied debates the question of complex social cognition in pigs is also of relevance for theoretical debates in philosophy, like the debate on animal agency and moral abilities in animals. The latter might be present in animals if they show pro-social and possibly empathetically motivated behavior (like helping, caring, consolation, or cooperation), or, if they show inequity aversion or any other behavior driven by moral emotions. What morality in animals is (from a conceptual perspective) is an open question, however. The same holds for the ethical implications of such capacities in animals. In an FWF project Benz-Schwarzburg and Monsó (together with a Phd student, Birte Wrage, MA) embarked on this research (Project: “Morality in animals: what it means and why it matters”, PI: Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg).
Link to the MiA project

Doctoral project by Judith Benz-Schwarzburg, 2006-2012

Dr. Benz-Schwarzburg’s research illuminates the contradictions between recognizing animals as “cognitive kin” and still treating them as “moral strangers”. Combining detailed knowledge of animal behavior with profound considerations of animal rights and animal welfare is what she aims at. The main research questions are: Do animals possess complex cognitive and emotional abilities such as culture, language, theory of mind or morality? And if so, what does it mean for the human-animal relationship, if animals “come close”?

The projectspecifically focused on the question of culture, language and theory of mind in animals. Empirical studies from different scientific fields provide increasing evidence that certain animals demonstrate at least some aspects of these phenomena. Non-anthropocentric and non-monolithic definitions of such capacities have to be developed. In addition, ethical implications of recognizing animals as our cognitive kin have to be considered. The purported human-uniqueness with regard to complex cognition and complex emotions has long been considered adequate justification for attributing to humans a moral status markedly superior to that granted to animals and for justifying very different standards of treatment. This becomes questionable in the light of our growing knowledge on animals’ abilities. Treating animals like kin in moral theories can lead to strong welfare demands or even to inalienable rights for (some) animals. The gap between justifiable theoretical claims and the actual situation of animals in captivity and in the wild can be seen as the core characteristic of animal ethics in the 21st century.

The project was completed with the doctor's degree at the University of Tübingen, Germany. It was supervised by Prof. Dr. Eve-Marie Engels (University of Tübingen, Germany) and Prof. Dr. Hanno Würbel (University of Bern, Switzerland). The thesis was published 2012 with Harald Fischer Publishing ( and awarded two prizes, the PhD Prize of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Tuebingen 2012 and the German Study Prize 2013 (Deutscher Studienpreis, 2nd place, category Cultural Studies & Humanities).It is currently been translated into English by Brill.

Publication December 2012

13th – 16th June 2018

The EurSafe 2018 Congress in Vienna will focus on the role of professionals and professions in the food chain. Within the public debate surrounding food it is often argued that the key to meeting current challenges is changing consumer behaviour. Professionals and practitioners like farmers, retailers, veterinarians, or researchers are only in the limelight when the media report on so called “food scandals”. To better understand and get to grips with current and future problems in the food chain, it is essential that we pay greater attention to the role and position of professionals. Different expectations and interests lead to challenging and complex situations for all parties trying to understand the nature of the problems. Additionally, participating players act in different areas of responsibility and are subject to professional values and constructions of virtues, as well as expectations about their expertise. Therefore, the prominent questions are: What are the main ethical challenges for the professionals in the food chain? Who within this complex field holds responsibility for emerging issues? What does it mean for the food-related professions to work in a field of immense social tension? Which virtues are necessary to do a proper job?

Please refer to the congress website for updated information and further Details.

PhD-Projekt von Kerstin Weich

From the rectal examination in dairy cows, diagnosis of bladder inflammation in cats, prophylactic operations of brachycephal dogs to the pharmacological know-how for the euthanasia of companion animals – in the research project "Towards a Philosophy of Veterinary Medicine" the philosophical interest is directed towards routines in the field of curative veterinary medicine. How are concepts such as health, normality and naturalness entangled in veterinary medicine with ideas and treatments of certain animals? Routine practices become the object of research, because they regulate such formations of treatment and understanding.

A crucial result of the research project is the development of a specific constellation of philosophy, animals and medicine in which the analysis of this research question becomes possible. Based on a broad and interdisciplinary state of research, a theoretical- methodological approach is developed in which the investigation of veterinary practices and patient animals is embedded in a critical questioning of medicine’s self-understanding as a discipline and its reflection in the humanities and social sciences. This way, the diversity and historicity of animal patients enable a redefinition of the relationship between veterinary medicine and its ethical reflection, which can overcome the enclosure of powerful oppositional pairs – between nature and culture, between man and animal. The art of veterinary medicine to provide a good death for an animal is a central issue in this project. The investigation of the embodiment of metaphysical ideas of mortality and humanity in an animal, via the highly medicalized culture of dying, contributes to a better understanding of euthanasia – both in veterinary medicine and in contemporary culture, in whose analyses’ animals are still rare guests.

Taken together, the individual studies make a contribution to medical philosophy that goes beyond the mere treatment of previously neglected topics and objects, by taking the philosophical question of animals in medicine seriously. This means to work on the question of how, why and with which effects animals can be considered in medicine.

Doctoral project by Andreas Aigner

The doctoral project analyses different forms of anthropocentrism as well as ambivalences in the human thinking and acting related to non-human animals on the basis of the psychoanalytical theory by Jacques Lacan. This refers, for instance, to the phenomenon that humans eat some animals while they keep others as beloved pets and are fascinated and amazed by still other animals. The project investigates how this ambivalence is linked to unconscious processes and structures of the human psyche that slip conscious reflection. The interdisciplinary setting of the project at the interface between psychology and philosophy also deals with the question of the "ontological and epistemic basic conditions" of the "becoming" subject from an Lacanian perspective. This implies that also the concept of anthropocentrism and its doubtful overcoming are questioned because Lacan's complex theory of human subjectivity radically renders the concept of "anthropos" as a "centre" of thinking a problem. With regard to Lacan's later theories, the aim is to show that the different ways in which humans refer to animals and treat them can be associated with unconscious structures that are not "neutral" towards the Other. This does not only prove that, according to Lacan, the anthropocentrism towards animals, which is criticised in animal ethics, is a worthy subject for debate, but also any intended overcoming of it. The vital question is how far any relationship to this Other is co-determined by a certain unconscious interest or desire of this Other or borne by a specific form of unconscious enjoyment.

An analysis of this subjective structures will contribute an important new perspective to the philosophical debate about anthropocentrism. This project will give insight into the connections between different implicit normative ideas which regulate the ambivalent relationships to animals and unconscious desire and enjoyment. The aim is to better understand the problems of supposed contradictions in human-animal interactions which are discussed in animal ethics.

project number: P 27428

Funded by FWF

Collaborative project by Anne Zintzsch, Elena Noe, and Herwig Grimm

The use of animals in research requires careful ethical consideration of whether the burden on the animals is justified. As one important part of the project evaluation, a harm–benefit analysis (HBA) must be carried out in order to approve projects in line with the EU Directive 2010/63/EU. This implies that harms and benefits must be assessed prospectively beforehand in order to weigh them. Although there are different methods of weighing, it is clear that an assessment of prospective harms and benefits is a precondition for any weighing procedure. In this context, projects that use genetically altered (GA) lines raise new issues. A unique challenge when using GA lines is the significant lack of knowledge in this context, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to estimate harm prospectively with sufficient certainty, since it is not predictable what sort of harm—if at all—the animals are going to experience. Therefore, this contribution aims to deal with the challenges of harm assessment in GA animals and their implications for welfare assessment and the HBA. A practical guideline is presented herein to serve as guidance for relevant harm factors and address the main challenges, particularly when dealing with uncertainties in the process of HBA.

The 3Rs Assessment of Genetically Altered Animals Tool (3RsAGENT) guides the evaluation and facilitates a review of chosen methods with respect to defining and best reducing uncertainty or addressing this issue with a caring attitude. In cases where we do not know the outcome, this should be made transparent.

The 3RsAGENT (ready for use)

3RsAGENT: Supplementary information and practical guidance

Examples on how to use the 3RsAGENT

FWF Lise Meitner project, 2019-2021

PI: Susana Monsó

Project number: M2518-G32

Humans have long been understood as the only creatures who have a concept of death. Animals have historically been portrayed as creatures who cannot understand what happens to another being when she dies, and who have absolutely no clue about their own mortality. Within the field of animal ethics, animals’ purported lack of a concept of death has been used by many authors to argue that killing an animal poses no ethical problem, so long as it is done in a quick and painless manner. In recent years, however, scientists have begun to gather evidence that suggests that this view of animals may be mistaken. Chimpanzees have been seen apparently testing for signs of life and offering nurturance to dead bodies of other chimpanzees. Crows have been found to gather around their deceased to learn about the circumstances of their death and potential sources of danger. Mothers from a wide range of species have been witnessed carrying the bodies of their dead infants for long periods of time. Does this all mean that these animals can understand death? Or are these behaviours the result of instincts, hormones gone awry, or simple confusion? This project, entitled “Animals and the Concept of Death”, aims to give an answer to these questions by engaging in the first in-depth philosophical exploration of animals’ understanding of death. The project will consist of two main tasks. The first task is to determine exactly what it means for an animal to possess a concept of death. Using the literature on concept possession in animals from the field of philosophy of animal minds, as well as the research on children’s understanding of death from the discipline of developmental psychology, this first task will result in a clear picture of the conditions that have to be met for an animal to be credited with possessing a concept of death. The second task will then be to look at the evidence that scientists have gathered so far, in order to see whether any of it actually supports the idea that animals have a concept of death.

Funded by FWF