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Animal welfare

What is animal welfare?


Animal welfare is a complex and multi-faceted subject with scientific, ethical, economic, cultural, social, religious and political dimensions. It is attracting growing interest from civil society and is one of the priorities of the OIE. The OIE, at the request of its Member Countries, is the international organisation responsible for setting standards on this topic. Find out more here.

The OIE Global Animal Welfare Strategy was developed from lessons learned from actions taken at national and regional level and aims to be a source of ongoing guidance for the OIE’s activities in this area. Adopted in 2017 by all Member Countries, it was developed with the objective of achieving: “A world where the welfare of animals is respected, promoted and advanced, in ways that complement the pursuit of animal health, human well-being, socio-economic development and environmental sustainability”.

The strategy focuses on the development of international standards on animal welfare, in consultation with Member Countries and key international stakeholders, developing the capacity of Veterinary Services, improving communication with governments and raising awareness around the issue, and, finally, supporting Member Countries in the implementation of these standards.


 © OIE /J.Bacelar


The OIE definition of animal welfare


According to the OIE Terrestrial Code, animal welfare means ‘the physical and mental state of an animal in relation to the conditions in which it lives and dies.

The guiding principles which inform the OIE’s work on the welfare of terrestrial animals include the ‘Five Freedoms’. Developed in 1965, and widely recognised, the five freedoms describe society’s expectations for the conditions animals should experience when under human control, namely:

  • freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst;
  • freedom from fear and distress;
  • freedom from heat stress or physical discomfort;
  • freedom from pain, injury and disease; and
  • freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.


With regards to the welfare of aquatic animals, the OIE has developed international standards for the welfare of farmed fish (except ornamental species) in the Aquatic Code and advocates the use of ‘handling methods appropriate to the biological characteristics of the fish and a suitable environment to fulfil their needs’.