For centauries farmers have been raising livestock for human consumption. They are conscious of their responsibilities towards the animals that are in their care. Indeed, good animal welfare practices reward farmers with good animal productivity.
As the distance between farmers and consumers grows with increasing urbanisation, consumers know less and less about the way farm animals are raised. However, consumers do care about the way in which their food is produced, including the way farm animals are treated. Increasingly, they require assurances that the wellbeing of animals is being taken into account in livestock farming practices. Thus for farmers, the adoption of standards for livestock production practices that meet animal welfare requirements is necessary to maintain consumer confidence in livestock products. In a context of increasing market globalisation, animal welfare has also become a global concern.
Animal welfare is complex. Science and ethics both play a part. Science provides the body of evidence about animal behaviour that is used for judgements about animal welfare. Ethics in animal welfare provides the basis for the viewpoint that it is morally acceptable to use animals for food providing that the animals are protected from unnecessary suffering At the same time, individual decisions about animal welfare are influenced by consumer attitudes.
Therefore, there is a need for further dialogue between the different stakeholders.
Farmers in the WFO stress that all livestock products should be produced according to agreed minimum standards of animal welfare. Competition and market demand may, however, result
in specific requests for higher animal welfare production standards taking into account the effects of production methods on the health status of the animals.
For the WFO, minimum international animal welfare standards are essential in order to:
- ensure that animal welfare issues do not become a barrier to trade, and
- raise animal welfare practises to a basic acceptable level in countries where they are lower.
Animal welfare standards should be established on the basis of internationally agreed And science based principles within the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). As well as being science based, animal welfare standards should also take into account the environmental, economic and social variations across the world. These variations reflect different farming systems (extensive/intensive), different levels of available technology and scientific knowledge, as well as different consumer attitudes.
In order to ensure that animal welfare standards are ‘sustainable’, i.e. applied cost effectively, they should be ‘outcome based’ rather than being ‘prescriptive’ in saying exactly how these standards should be achieved.
Animal welfare standards should not become a barrier for trade. This means that they must be harmonized internationally using a science based system. In is not acceptable for farmers that national governments demand higher animal welfare standards of their domestic production than they do for imported product. For the WFO, the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) is
the forum best suited to reach a global recognition of animal welfare to assist with guidelines
In the building of national and international animal welfare strategies, it is important to recognise broad stakeholder and community animal welfare interests and the need to effectively communicate policies and approaches.
Consultation processes should be established in order to ensure stakeholder input into animal welfare standards and guidelines, in particular from livestock producers. Livestock producers are the first persons concerned by on farm animal welfare, and through their cooperatives are also directly concerned by animal welfare in transport systems and slaughterhouses.
Dialogue between farmers, consumers, responsible animal welfare groups and government is critical for success. Effective communications, education and training across the whole community must be undertaken to promote an improved understanding of animal welfare.
Effective implementation of sustainable animal welfare standards requires a strong partnership between farmers, industry, all levels of government and the community. It is also important to improve consistency of codes of practise or regulations and their administration across jurisdictions, as well as the enforcement procedures of agreed standards.
Animal welfare has been identified as a priority in the Strategic Plan of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). As an intergovernmental organisation, the OIE is committed to a science based approach to the development of animal welfare guidelines and standards and to working closely with all stakeholders. The WFO is therefore working with the OIE as the organisation best placed to provide international leadership on animal welfare.
The WFO supports the guiding principles for animal welfare that are outlined in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code. These are:
- That there is a critical relationship between animal health and animal welfare.
- That the internationally recognised ‘five freedoms’ (freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour) provide valuable guidance in animal welfare.
- That the internationally recognised ‘three Rs’ (reduction in numbers of animals, refinement of experimental methods and replacement of animals with non animal techniques) provide valuable guidance for the use of animals in science.
- That the scientific assessment of animal welfare involves diverse elements which need to be considered together, and that selecting and weighing these elements often involves value based assumptions which should be made as explicit as possible.
- That the use of animals in agriculture and science, and for companionship, recreation and entertainment, makes a major contribution to the wellbeing of people.
- That the use of animals carries with it an ethical responsibility to ensure the welfare of such animals to the greatest extent practicable.
- That improvements in farm animal welfare can often improve productivity and food safety, and hence lead to economic benefits.
- That equivalent outcomes (performance criteria), rather than identical systems (design
criteria), be the basis for comparison of animal welfare standards and guidelines.
The WFO encourages OIE to pursue its work in the following areas:
- to identify animal welfare research needs and encourage collaboration among researchcentres, to improve awareness of animal welfare in academia, and
- to provide expertise on specific animal welfare issues to other international organisations, animal production sectors, industry and consumer groups.
The WFO supports initiatives to promote at least minimum standards of animal welfare in international trade as a noncompetitive issue. These standards should be based on ‘equivalent outcomes’ rather than on ‘identical systems’.
Successful implementation of a strategy on animal welfare requires a broad communications activity to keep the community, industry, government and international trading partners better informed of animal welfare achievements and approaches in each country and foster a broad understanding of animal industry practices from a welfare perspective.
A communication strategy could include enhancing education and training across the whole
community to promote an improved and consistent understanding of animal welfare.
Animal welfare on the farm
- Animal welfare must be safeguarded in the production of farm animals: in the breeding process; when designing housing, feeding and production systems; and during transportation and slaughtering.
- Advisory services, research institutes, and agricultural education establishments should include animal welfare concerns in their work Science based rules.
- Scientific evidence about the biological needs of the animals must constitute the basis of the requirements of animal welfare.
Harmonisation and enforcement of rules
- The protection of farm animals should be based on rules and recommendations that are harmonized internationally, meeting at least the standards laid down by the OIE. ‘Equivalent’ enforcement of provisions is also crucial.
- Stricter rules on animal welfare than legally required may be applied by to meet demands from consumers and society, e.g. by agricultural cooperatives.
- Regulations on animal welfare in any one country must not become so excessively demanding that the production of farm animals moves from one country to another
based on animal welfare requirements.
- Suitable indicators of animal welfare are important for ensuring the correct and harmonised application of animal welfare regulations.
- Impact assessment procedures should be applied to all legislative proposals relating to animal welfare, analogous to environmental protection. Another option would be to expand current procedures to assess environmental protection measures to include animal welfare.
- International, sciencebased, standards and enforcement procedures are essential in order to facilitate equal trade opportunities.
- The WFO encourages all countries to adopt the standards and guiding principles on animal welfare developed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) as a basis for ensuring that animal welfare concerns do not become an unfair barrier to trade.
National consultation processes
- National consultation processes that involve key stakeholders must be established for developing and implementing animal welfare strategies. This process is critical to ensure that animal welfare strategies are written in such a way that farmers are able to live up to them and also make a living.
Farmers are conscious of the importance of respecting animal welfare standards and guidelines, in order to meet consumer concerns. The WFO supports the adoption of minimum standards for animal welfare that are harmonised internationally through the OIE. The WFO requests to maintain farmers’ representation on the OIE Animal Welfare Group, and insists that farmers’ organisations be consulted on the drawing up and application of all national and international strategies on animal welfare.
Definition of the ‘Five Freedoms’ – the Animal Welfare Council in the UK stress that these freedoms define ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare. They form a logical and comprehensive framework for analysis of welfare within any system together with the steps and compromises necessary to safeguard and improve welfare within the proper constraints of an effective livestock industry. The WFO supports this view.
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
2. Freedom from Discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
4. Freedom to Express Nor mal Behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.