Home > Animal welfare at a glance
Animal production systems, transport and slaughter of animals: all situations where the perception of animal welfare differs from one region and culture to another, from one person to another. Animal welfare is a complex and multifaceted issue which involves scientific, ethical, economic, cultural, social, religious and political dimensions. Civil society is increasingly interested in animal welfare and it has been a priority in the work of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for over a decade.
Since its founding in 1924, the OIE has been responsible for setting intergovernmental animal health standards. In 1995, when the World Trade Organization (WTO) was established, the OIE animal health standards were recognised as WTO references in the category of sanitary (health) measures. In 2002, at the request of its Member Countries, and noting that animal health is a key component of animal welfare, the OIE broadened its mandate to include animal welfare standards and to take the lead internationally in this field.
To build upon this new mandate, the OIE has convened a cycle of Global Conferences on animal welfare, which started in 2004, to address its goal of helping all Member Countries implement adopted animal welfare standards, while taking into account the cultural and economic variations between regions and countries of the world.
The first OIE international standards on animal welfare were published in 2005 and new standards continue to be added. The standards currently cover the welfare of terrestrial animals and farmed fish in key sectors. The standards are regularly updated in light of developments in scientific knowledge. OIE standards are adopted by consensus of the World Assembly of national OIE Delegates, which means that all Member Countries endorse their application at the national level, regardless of their cultural and economic situation.
According to the OIE Terrestrial Code, “animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives”. The OIE guiding principles on animal welfare also mention the universally recognised “Five Freedoms”, published in 1965 to describe the right to welfare of animals under human control.
According to this concept, an animal’s primary welfare needs can be met by providing:
The OIE animal welfare standards are not sanitary (health) measures but they also have an important role in international trade because they are the only global, science-based standards agreed by the trading nations of the world. Harmonisation of measures with international standards is a WTO principle to facilitate safe trade and avoid unnecessary trade barriers; this is equally true of measures for animal welfare and for animal health.
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The OIE considers that, like standards for animal health and food safety, animal welfare standards should be based on sound science. They should focus on the results achieved for the animal and they should always seek to maintain health as a basis of welfare. This had led the Organisation to strengthen its international network of expertise on the matter, with the constitution of a dedicated Animal Welfare Working Group and the inclusion of new Collaborating Centres.
The veterinary profession plays a key role in assuring animal health and welfare and the training of veterinarians is increasingly including a wider range of courses on subjects relevant to animal welfare. Therefore, in countries and regions the best results are obtained when national Veterinary Services work together with the agro-industries and NGOs to improve animal welfare.
Notwithstanding the progress made over the last decades, there are still many challenges to the sustainable improvement of animal welfare. The OIE is currently working on the development of standards and recommendations in new areas of importance to animal welfare.