[Français] [Español]


Global Conference on Animal Welfare

Applying science to Animal Welfare

There is a critical relationship between animal health and animal welfare and the OIE, as the World Organisation for Animal Health, is well-placed to provide international leadership in the field of animal welfare. The OIE's initiative will involve the preparation of internationally applicable guiding principles and standards for animal welfare, and it is committed to ensure that its international standards are "science-based". This commitment stems from the tradition of its internationally recognised animal health standards having a solid science base to help prevent countries from putting in place measures designed merely to restrict foreign competition. In the case of animal welfare standards, there is the fear that if standards are not "science-based", then they may reflect anthropomorphic thinking or uninformed public opinion about how animals ought to be handled. The conference will provide an introduction to the science of animal welfare and its application to animal welfare guiding principles and standards.

The initial part of the Conference is designed to set the scene for the detailed discussions to follow. The OIE's animal welfare initiative will be described, and various speakers from the agriculture industry, consumers, developed and developing countries and the international animal welfare movement will present their viewpoints. This will provide a forum for the OIE to communicate its activities and projects in the field of animal welfare, and how various stakeholders concerned can contribute to these activities.

Implementation of animal welfare standards will require the traditional involvement of the veterinary community, and of other key stakeholders in industry and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who may have little knowledge of animal welfare science, but who are keenly interested in being actively involved on the subject. Therefore, the papers will be prepared in order to be accessible to veterinarians and other scientists but also to regulators, industry and NGO representatives.

The Conference programme foresees that key animal welfare issues may be divided into various categories. These will be discussed under the following headings:

1. Space and environment. What quality and quantity of living environment do animals need for basic biological functioning (growth, rate of lay, etc.), for physical and thermal comfort, and for important types of behaviour? How have these needs been determined, and how are they reflected (or might they be reflected) in guiding principles, guidelines and standards? Topics will include research on space needs in relation to basic activities and productivity; and approaches to the design of animal housing facilities.

2. Management, handling and transport. How is animal welfare affected by the actions of caretakers, both on and off the farm? How do particular environments provided during transport and handling affect animal welfare? Topics will include, for example, flight parameters, learned fear, and pre-slaughter management. This section will be coordinated with the following section considering pain, fear and distress.

3. Pain, fear, and distress. What affective states (pain, fear, distress, frustration) are of concern in the welfare of animals? How can these states be recognised, and mitigated or prevented? How has research in this field contributed, or how might it contribute, to the development of animal welfare standards? Topics will include painful procedures (castration, dehorning), use of anaesthetics and analgesics, separation distress, temperament, fear reactions, and positive states such as contentment and pleasure.

4. Injury and disease. What is the role of injury and disease in animal welfare? How are injury and disease recognised, and mitigated or prevented? Topics will include infectious disease, the use of draft animals, environmentally induced disease such as lameness, and the role of genetics in health.

5. Food, water and malnutrition. How do the quality of food and water, and the different methods of providing them, affect animal welfare? This will deal with both affective states (hunger, thirst) and the biological effects of malnutrition or under-nutrition. Topics to be considered include chronic hunger in limit-feeding systems; the role of genetics in hunger (e.g. broiler breeders); and the effects of water and food quality and availability.

In each of these topics, engaging examples of relevant research will be given, indicating some of the methods applied, and how the knowledge gained has contributed (or might contribute) to animal welfare standards.

It should be borne in mind that the OIE's initial activities decided by its Member Countries in developing animal welfare guiding principles and standards will focus on (1) land transport, (2) sea transport (3) humane slaughter for human consumption, and (4) depopulation for disease control purposes. Four OIE ad hoc expert groups have been established to address these topics and reports from the Groups will be presented for discussion at the Conference.

The idea that three broad social concerns over the welfare of animals (that animals should function well, feel well, and live reasonably natural lives) have given rise to three broad approaches in animal welfare science will be analysed. These approaches are (1) a biological functioning approach which emphasizes health, growth, reproduction, and related measures, (2) an affective state approach which emphasizes negative states such as pain and fear combined with positive states such as pleasure and contentment, and (3), a natural living approach which emphasizes normal behaviour and/or quasi-natural environments.

Different animal welfare guidelines adopted by some regional organisations reflect different degrees of emphasis on these three approaches. Proponents of these different guidelines sometimes claim that their approach is (uniquely) science-based and, therefore, free from value-related judgements. However it is clear that all approaches involve science and that scientists inevitably apply value-related judgements in deciding which scientific approach to follow.

This conference will be a key tool supporting the OIE on this difficult but exciting challenge.