UN adopts ‘groundbreaking’ animal welfare policies

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

The UN's recommendations for government policy on animal welfare are not binding
The UN's recommendations for government policy on animal welfare are not binding

Related tags Animal welfare Sustainability United nations Livestock Beef Lamb Pork Poultry

The United Nations has adopted what one NGO described as “groundbreaking” policy recommendations, placing animal welfare concerns at the heart of global farming.

New policy recommendations for animal welfare in farming​ suggest welfare concerns should be front and centre of government policy on farming systems. The measures were adopted at a meeting of the United Nations (UN) Committee on World Farming Security in Rome, Italy, this week.

Animal welfare organisation World Animal Protection hailed the news, describing the adoption of “groundbreaking global policy recommendations​” as a first in the 71-year history of the UN. Recommendations included improving animal welfare, preventing the unnecessary use of antibiotics​ and improving biosecurity to prevent livestock disease.

This change by the UN is a massive step forward in putting animal welfare at the front and centre of farming,” said World Animal Protection’s international head of policy Lesley Mitchell. “It means countries will no longer ask, ‘should we include animal welfare?’ but ‘how do we deliver better animal welfare?’

By treating animals well, we can fight poverty, reduce hunger, improve people’s health, tackle climate change and protect the biodiversity of our planet.

We’ve been working to make sure the vital importance of animal protection is recognised at a global level. This is a clear acknowledgement that better animal welfare contributes to better food security for communities, which in turn helps to tackle sustainable development goals to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.​”

The UN’s policy recommendations

  • Enable access to veterinary services, vaccinations and medication, including antimicrobials
  • Improve animal health management through biosafety and biosecurity by following OIE standards
  • Promote the prudent use of antibiotics, but prevent unnecessary use and phase out uses for animal growth promotion 
  • Improve animal welfare by delivering on the OIE’s five freedoms 
  • Promote access to good-quality feed and sustainable feeding practices 
  • Promote a physical environment and genetic section that ensures compliance with OIE welfare standards

Warmly’ welcomed

The recommendations set out the inclusion of “substantive language​” on animal welfare, which is supposed to make it clear that governments ought to consider animal welfare in farming systems. Policy should emphasis the fact that animals must be raised to without pain, distress and hunger. It also says animals should be free to display natural behaviours, something enshrined in the World Organisation for Animal Health’s (OIE) five freedoms principles.

We warmly welcome the adoption by the UN Committee on World Food Security of strong recommendations on the welfare of farm animals,​” said Peter Stevenson, chief policy advisor at Compassion in World Farming. “The UN Committee is calling for animal welfare to be improved and for animals’ physical environment (e.g. housing) and genetic selection to comply with the five freedoms including freedom from pain, distress and physical discomfort as well as the freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

The Committee’s recommendations present serious challenges to the spread of industrial livestock production into the developing world as industrial systems regularly involve pain through routine mutilations, physical discomfort from fully slatted or concrete floors and distress caused by excessive stocking densities. In addition, normal patterns of behaviour are generally impossible in industrial systems. The UN Committee’s recommendations should lead to a shift to extensive animal systems which are better for both welfare and sustainability.​”

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