Continuing hope for worthy global animal welfare standards at Paris OIE meeting
We frequently receive correspondence from International Fund for Animal Welfare supporters when they travel oversees and are shocked to see how animals are treated in other parts of the world.
In fact there is growing interest and concern about animals around the world but governments are often very slow to respond to their citizens' demands for improved animal welfare standards.
Now however, even governments are beginning to change their attitudes to animal welfare and animal welfare is increasingly recognised as a socially important goal for a number of reasons.
First of all animals are sentient beings.
Science is now able to provide evidence for what we have long known, animals can feel pain and they suffer when they are mistreated, equally they can experience pleasure and satisfaction when their needs are met.
We, as humans, have an ethical responsibility to provide for the needs of the animals in our care and to ensure they have an opportunity to experience a life worth living.
Secondly to ignore the suffering of animals has a negative impact on human societies.
On the one hand cruelty becomes more acceptable for some people and this impacts social values. On the other hand many caring people suffer when they see animals mistreated and this affects human quality of life as well as that of the animals themselves.
Finally poor treatment of animals often causes economic losses for people whose livelihoods depend on livestock and who may be unaware of how to improve the welfare of their animals.
In spite of these important reasons to treat animals well, most countries have no animal welfare legislation or standards and, even where such legislation exists, this is often poorly drafted and badly enforced, not just in developing countries but in many wealthy nations too.
Globalisation creates many pressures for human and animal societies, but globalisation also provides the opportunity to encourage good practice and kind treatment of animals and to show why animal welfare matters.
Currently there are no globally accepted norms or standards for animal welfare so IFAW watched with great interest when, in 2002, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE - Office International des Epizooties) announced it was including animal welfare as part of its work to improve animal health; a first for any global intergovernmental organisation.
This was a very positive step but there are still some concerns.
The OIE was formed in 1924 to promote global animal health while reducing the likelihood of the spread of disease by animals in trade.
- Will the OIE's pro trade agenda impact its neutrality when determining what animal welfare guidelines will be endorsed by this very powerful organisation?
- Will the OIE animal welfare guidelines be based on the precautionary principle or will they assume lack of animal suffering unless proved otherwise?
- Will the OIE produce a comprehensive suite of animal welfare guidelines or just those of relevance to trade.
- Will the development of these guidelines result in growth in the international trade in live animals or will proper account be made of, for instance, the enormous animal welfare risks introduced by the import of non native species?
- Will the OIE animal welfare guidelines aim to raise the level of care in countries that have no current animal welfare legislation or will they, in effect, undermine higher animal welfare legislation, regulations and protocols that currently exist in some countries.
The OIE has its annual meeting in Paris this week and an IFAW delegation is there connecting with the like-minded, monitoring discussions and learning about the how the OIE's work is likely to impact the work of our organisation and the animal welfare priorities we have identified.
We are continuing to watch these developments and working with partners to achieve the best outcome for animals.
I will be reporting back to you to let you know what is happening and how the OIE's animal welfare initiative is likely to change the status of animals, and how they are treated around the world.
It is our hope that the OIE and its 178 member countries will heed the calls of the growing number of global citizens who believe that how we treat animals is an important part of the social fabric of societies around the world.
As Gandhi famously remarked, “the civilization of a country can be judged by the way it treats its animals.”
Let us hope the OIE animal welfare initiative will set worthy standards for a civilised 21st Century world.