PARIS, France, February 24, 2004 (ENS):
The first ever global conference on animal welfare opened
here on Monday, bringing together the 166 member countries
of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and
affiliated international organizations. The focus of
the conference is the development of international standards
and guidelines on the welfare of animals.
Discussions centered on establishing standards and
guidelines in four main areas - transport by land, sea
transport, humane slaughter for consumption, and the
killing of animals for disease control. They are expected
to be completed by 2005.
"Any moves to develop international standards
have our wholehearted support," said European Commissioner
for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne.
"The significance of this conference should not
be underestimated. It marks the very first opportunity
for stakeholders, scientists and governments to debate
animal welfare issues in a worldwide perspective."
Animal welfare standards are not defined at an international
level except in Conventions by the Council of Europe
and in some multilateral agreements. But current World
Trade Organization provisions take little account of
animal welfare so the European Union cannot require
its own animal welfare standards to be respected in
Byrne said that the European Commission Monday obtained
official observer status within the OIE, which will
now enable the Commission to advance the EU's view on
all international animal health and welfare issues.
European citizens care deeply about animal welfare,
said Byrne, and the unanimous decision of the OIE member
countries to address animal welfare at this international
level confirms the worldwide interest in this issue.
The Commission endorses the OIE's approach of basing
animal welfare guidelines and standards on the best
available science and setting up expert groups to advise
on the specific issues, he said, adding that the creation
of guidelines and standards at the OIE level is likely
to facilitate their international acceptance.
R. Quintili of the weekly Italian consumers magazine
"Il Salvagente" says the attitude of consumers
toward animal welfare has changed dramatically over
the past 20 years. "The food scares that have occurred
all over the world, and the increasing media interest
in breeding techniques, have changed the requirement
for minimum standards of animal welfare.
Today, 10 years after the mad cow disease crisis struck
Great Britain, Quintili said, "Recent statistics
have revealed that one in two EU citizens is suspicious
of meat and other products of animal origin and has
doubts about animal welfare conditions."
Because of the mad cow disease crisis, Quintili said,
"a large number of consumers were forced to face
the uncomfortable equation: animal = machine, and they
realized that the absence of animal comfort has an effect
on the safety of food."
Karen Brown of the U.S. Food Marketing Institute told
the delegates that in order to achieve real change,
"there must be a motivating force and all of the
stakeholders need to be involved." This is the
premise of the animal welfare program developed for
the food retail, wholesale and chain restaurant industries
in the United States by the Food Marketing Institute
(FMI) and the National Council of Chain Restaurants,
In January 2001 the FMI Board of Directors adopted
an animal welfare policy stating that "animals
must be raised, transported and processed in a clean,
safe environment free from cruelty, abuse or neglect."
FMI members pledged to work cooperatively with their
suppliers to promote best practices for each species
in order to ensure animal well-being throughout the
production process. They agreed that recommendations
will be developed working with experts in animal welfare,
animal husbandry, veterinary medicine and agricultural
production, said Brown, and that best practices will
be "communicated broadly to maintain consumer confidence."
Commissioner Byrne raised the point that the main criticism
expressed by producers and certain sections of the food
industry is that higher welfare standards lead to higher
production and supply costs. "The experience within
Europe has shown that in many cases there are no significant
additional costs in improving animal protection,"
"If such costs are experienced, they can be more
than recovered by the price differential of superior
more animal welfare friendly products, provided that
these are effectively marketed and consumers properly
informed," Byrne said.
Reminding delegates that markets evolve and adapt in
response to consumer demands, "It is encouraging
in this regard to see, for example, the shift towards
the use of free range eggs by some of the international
fast food chains," he said.
The conference continues through Wednesday. Guiding
principles on animal welfare are due to be adopted at
the General Session of the OIE International Committee
Still, OIE member countries are free to maintain their
own animal welfare standards if these are higher than
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights