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The International Animal Welfare Policy Environment


The international animal welfare/animal protection policy environment is changing rapidly. Animal welfare science has increased understanding and acceptance of animal welfare and animal behavior. Most importantly, science has now confirmed that the non-human animals who share our planet (and sometimes our lives) are sentient beings who share with us consciousness, feelings, emotions, perceptions – and the ability to experience pain, suffering and states of wellbeing. It has also confirmed that animals have biologically-determined natures, instincts and needs; the fulfillment of which is important to them.

This developing body of knowledge has increased the political importance of animal welfare - which is now not only debated in regional and international policy forums, but is also covered by a fast-growing body of internationally and regionally accepted science-based standards, conventions, treaties, regulations, directives and agreements. Below are key international agencies and policymaking bodies whose work overlaps with various aspects of animal welfare, and which can be useful when advocating for improved animal welfare standards both regionally and internationally. 

We are working on a more comprehensive version of this page with improved navigation. You can view this here, though it remains a work in progress. 

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)

The major international driver of this change has been the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which has a wide global membership and is the global standard setting body for animal welfare. The OIE has now adopted a growing body of international animal welfare standards, and is spearheading the development of Regional Animal Welfare Strategies (RAWS) – which are strategic plans for the development of animal welfare throughout a region – and a global animal welfare strategy. These policy developments are vitally important to the work of all animal protection organizations; and will remain an advocacy priority for WAN.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) is now also active in the field of animal welfare – at headquarters level - having established a portal called the Gateway to Animal Welfare on its website, which contains a wide range of information on animal welfare subjects. It also conducts thematic discussions and expert consultations, and has worked on animal welfare legislation. It is also a leading player in the international development field, and has the resources to support the institutional development of animal welfare in “developing” countries.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is a leading player in environmental policy. Although its work does not include animal welfare per se, it does include biodiversity and sustainable consumption (which includes relevant aspects). Also, its Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) does include some animal welfare-related aspects.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is another relevant UN agency, as its remit covers education, sustainability and science; and it has a One Planet, One Ocean program. Previous work on sustainable consumption has included animal welfare issues.

The European Union (EU)

In terms of Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the European Union (EU) is the most progressive in terms of including animal welfare in its sphere of policy work. It has recognized animals as sentient beings in an amendment to its founding treaty; has developed an extensive body of animal welfare legislation which has improved animal welfare standards across the REC; and contributes significantly to raising the profile and awareness of animal welfare at an international level – including through its collaboration with intergovernmental organizations such as the OIE and FAO; training and capacity building activities; and bilateral contacts (for example, including animal welfare in trade agreements with third countries).

The International Finance Corporation (IFC)

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, has also taken action on animal welfare, publishing Good Practice Notes on Animal Welfare in Livestock Operations in October 2006 and December 2014.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) updated its Environmental and Social Policy (ESP) in 2014 to ensure that projects meet or exceed European Union animal welfare laws when funding agribusiness projects.

The World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is also important, as it has the mandate for stray dog control, which is also covered by an OIE international standard. It has coordinated a number of pilot projects on stray dog control, including projects in Tanzania, South Africa and the Philippines, supported by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC)

The Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) is working for the global prevention for rabies, and has developed Partners for Rabies Prevention, which is a group that includes all major international agencies involved in rabies prevention.

The African Union

The African Union has now also recognized animal welfare, and a meeting held by AU-IBAR in Kenya in November/December 2015 recommended that an Africa Platform for Animal Welfare be established. Some African RECs are also taking steps to develop animal welfare strategies/action plans, for example, the Southern African Development Community, which was the first to draft a RAWS, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is currently researching for the development of a RAWS/Action Plan.

Development Policy

The development policy agenda, spearheaded by the United Nations Development Programme and guided by the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals, has not yet caught up with these policy developments. The current development paradigm has been a challenge to the acceptance of animal welfare as a development issue. In turn this leads to:

  • Lack of support from influential UN, intergovernmental and governmental international development organizations for the development of animal welfare structures; systems; policies, laws and enforcement; education and awareness; and programs.
  • Animal welfare being ignored in the technical assistance provided by these organizations in terms of policy support, resulting in the development of policies covering related issues (e.g. agriculture, livestock and aquaculture – at all levels, from NEPAD’s pan-African ‘Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program’ (CAADP), through to the policies of the RECs, down to country policies) which include no animal welfare aspects (apart from limited mentions in the context of ‘barriers to trade’).
  • These organizations carrying out or supporting development programs which detrimentally impact animal welfare, because there is no consideration or assessment of animal welfare impact (e.g. the development of industrial animal agriculture and aquaculture, the destruction of wildlife corridors and habitats, increased human-animal conflict, and the consumptive use of wildlife).

This is why WAN is advocating for the inclusion of animal welfare in development policy and practice. This work includes making use of WAN’s Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council to advocate for the inclusion of animal welfare and wildlife protection at United Nations (UN) level. To this end, we have been involved in consultations on the post-2015 development agenda.

Corporate Policy

Animal welfare is not only being addressed by governmental agencies and academic institutions, but also by a growing number of professionals at different locations in business supply chains. Many corporate groups - from producers to retailers - are also acknowledging social and environmental responsibilities and pursuing programs designed to enhance animal welfare.

These policy and corporate advances provide an enormous opportunity for animal protection advocacy, education and awareness.

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