The globalisation of animal welfare

Animal welfare is a complex, multi-faceted public policy issue which includes important ethical, economic and political dimensions. There is a real concern, in some quarters, that its recognition as an international trade policy issue is sought for "trade protectionism", rather than "animal protection" reasons.

This is one of the conclusions made in an article written by David Bayvel in an article entitled "The globalisation of animal welfare: A New Zealand and Australian perspective on recent developments of strategic importance".

The article addresses the role of certain organisations, including the OIE, in advances in issues of agricultural, science and animal health and welfare. The role of animal welfare in international trade policy is also addressed.

Among the articles conclusions it is stated that progress in the area of animal welfare will be a case of "evolution not revolution" based on the principle of incremental change management; and that it is vitally important that all changes be science-based and validated, be implemented over realistic time frames and take account of economic and cultural factors.

In his role as chairman of the Permanent Animal Welfare Working Group of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), David Bayvel has called for its 172 members to adopt its animal welfare standards as an appropriate and trade-facilitating approach.

The OIE's animal welfare mission is to provide international leadership in animal welfare through the development of science-based standards and guidelines, the provision of expert advice, and the promotion of relevant education and research.

An outcomes-based not a systems-based approach is adopted with a focus on the outcome for the animal, not the design of the system.

Regarding the definition of animal welfare, he said: “This means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear or distress.”

He continued: “Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter. Animal welfare relates to the state of the animal. The treatment that it receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry and humane treatment.”

Bayvel pointed out that animal welfare and health are linked and that better animal welfare can improve productivity and deliver economic benefits as well as make a contribution to human well-being.

David Bayvel has warned that if OIE members do not adopt its animal welfare standards as an appropriate and trade facilitating approach then members risk the development of multiple private standards for animal welfare which would not necessarily be science-based.

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Article added: 03/2009