The recognition of animal welfare across international policy

Published:

Article

One Health, Sustainable Development

The last couple of months have brought some encouraging signs. We appear to be seeing a new – but increasing – realisation that failing to protect animals harms humans – and that safeguarding them benefits humankind. We are even beginning to see a recognition of the need for fundamental change in how we treat animals – and we are seeing that realisation in places we might not expect it. 

We might not be surprised that the World Organisation for Animal Health’s World Assembly, at its 90th session, adopted a Resolution to improve prevention and responses to the ongoing highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) epidemic that is causing such devastation to many birds and other animals, and which has prompted some industry responses that cause further suffering for farmed birds and many farmers themselves. Perhaps more surprising – but also welcome – is the UN task force that explicitly recognised the link of HPAI to industrial poultry farming and called for more fundamental reform.

Meanwhile, we are seeing some recognition of the positive impacts of protecting healthy animals, as pointed out by the pandemic instrument negotiators at the World Health Organization who have realised the need to strengthen animal protection in how animals are kept, transported, traded, and treated to protect human health.

Perhaps even more optimism comes from how animal welfare concerns are being expressed from analyses of sectors less commonly linked to animals, including fashion, mining, and infrastructure. The last month saw both the IUCN guidelines for designing transport infrastructure with reduced impacts on animals and the new guidelines from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on how the fashion sector needs to consider animal well-being and treatment of animals. In Europe, our members officially presented to the European Commission the call for a Fur Free Europe, making the case for a full harmonized ban on fur farms and farmed fur products, backed by over 1.5 million citizens and a majority of Member States.

Animal welfare slowing international progress

Widening the lens reveals the urgency of this awakening. The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) showed how our current exploitative systems and anthropocentric attitudes are failing even to protect humans across the economic, social, and environmental pillars of sustainable development. UN Member State representatives at the HLPF, UN officials including the Secretary-General, and scientists repeatedly lamented how sustainable development is far from achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Our mistreatment of animals has slowed down sustainable development massively, globally, and over several years. The systems that exploit, hurt, restrict, and (ab)use animals create many of the most severe and existential threats to humans and the planet. Brief financial gains for a few create global risks for all.

Animal welfare to get (and keep) us back on track

The logical progression from acknowledging animal exploitation as a major part of the problem is to recognise that improving animal welfare is a significant part of the solution. It supports livelihoods, food security, health, environment, and other aspects of sustainable development while encouraging sustainable consumption and production patterns.

This is why it is also great that the UNEP fashion guide recognised that animal welfare plays a crucial role in sustainable development for people and the planet, and that improving animal welfare can tackle some of the key drivers of the triple planetary crisis. This is in line with last year’s UN Environment Assembly recognition of the links between animal welfare, environment, and sustainable development.

There are considerable benefits to protecting healthy animals and their environments. For instance, natural integrated ecosystems can sequester carbon, as our inputs into the UNFCCC Bonn conference noted. There are also positive impacts from shifts in consumer behaviour motivated by compassion, as highlighted by the UN’s report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023, and the recent Fur Free Europe European Citizen Initiative.

As we look forward to a series of events, from the next SDG Summit to the FAO Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation, it is clear that the road to integrating animal welfare into every policy is long. However, the first signs of change are budding, and it won’t be long before we see them bloom into a world where the welfare of animals is inextricably linked with our own.

Written by

James Yeates

Dr. James Yeates is the Chief Executive Officer of WFA. As CEO, James oversees the Federation’s advocacy strategy, membership recruitment and engagement strategies, and serves as the public face of WFA and its vision for animal welfare.

You might like

Leslie Low Yzc9apz8vns Unsplash

World Federation for Animals commits to elevating animal welfare in the sustainable development agenda at first-ever General Assembly

Copenhagen, Denmark (May 15, 2024 ) — The World Federation for Animals (WFA), comprised of over 60 animal protection organisations from around the world, gathered for its first-ever General Assembly. Held from 14 to 16 ...

Read more
Six Fish Farm Cages Float On The Ocean, Covered With Netting To Prevent Birds From Eating The Fish Inside. Sea Bass Populate Some Of The Cages, While Others Sit Empty But Are Soon To Be Filled With Salmon. Trabzon, Trabzon Province, Black Sea Region, Turkiye, 2023. Havva Zorlu / We Animals Media

Animal welfare: key recommendation for addressing AMR at the UN General Assembly

The indiscriminate use of antibiotics and other antimicrobials to mask the predictable emergence of infectious disease in industrial livestock systems underpins the profitability of the industrial agri-food business model. Such irresponsible use of antimicrobials is ...

Read more
A Light Coloured Mink Kit Looks Up Inside A Bare Wire Cage On A Fur Farm. Mink Have Similar Receptors In Their Upper Respiratory Tract To Humans And Birds, Making Them A Very Suitable Intermediary Host Species For Many Viruses. Narpio, Finland, 2023. Oikeutta Elaimille / We Animals Media

Extension in pandemic agreement talks: A last push for global health and animal welfare

In the last two weeks of March, the International Negotiation Body (INB) tasked with forging an international agreement for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, met for the ninth time. This session was expected to be ...

Read more
Sign up for our newsletters