Setting the standard on animal welfare

OIE seeks to bridge the divide on animal welfare; USDA, AVMA, and other groups to provide input
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A diverse group of more than 450 scientists, politicians, and animal welfare advocates from 70 countries gathered in Paris this past February to contribute their insight and expertise to the International Office des Epizooties' effort to create international standards for animal welfare.

The OIE is developing the science-based standards to help guide countries as they respond to the growing public demand for improved animal welfare standards, according to the OIE. The meeting in Paris was the start of large-scale information gathering on animal welfare by the OIE.

"Transparency and openness are key elements to the OIE policy," said Dr. Bernard Vallat, the OIE director general, in a statement. "We are strongly committed to continue to apply those principles also with regard to animal welfare issues."

The meeting featured speakers from all over the world, including Dr. Jim Edwards, the immediate past president of the World Veterinary Association; Dr. David Wilkins, representing the International Coalition for Farm Animal Welfare; Karen H. Brown, senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute; and David Fraser, PhD, a professor and expert on animal welfare theory. Topics discussed at the conference ranged from the role of veterinarians in animal welfare to the science of animal welfare, and to cultural, religious, and ethical issues related to animal welfare.

Special attention was also paid to the challenges faced by the 120 developing countries that are members of the OIE.

"In order to allow them to endorse the animal welfare standards that will be applied by the international community, it is important to provide them with technical and financial assistance," Dr. Vallat said.

Dr. Gail Golab, the assistant director of the Communications Division, represented the AVMA at the meeting as a member of the U.S. delegation to the OIE. She found the meeting to be an opportunity for the veterinary profession to participate in the development of science-based, international standards on animal welfare.

"The AVMA's role is to make sure we have as much good input into the process as possible," Dr. Golab said.

The AVMA Executive Board recently approved the Association's continued participation in the OIE animal welfare initiative, and appointed Dr. Golab as the project coordinator for AVMA participation in the project. Dr. Chester Gipson, the deputy administrator of Animal Care for the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, was the USDA's representative at the meeting, and is coordinating the U.S. delegation's participation in the initiative. He will forward information from the OIE to members of the delegation, which includes representatives from various industry groups, academia, and animal welfare groups. He will collect their comments to develop an official USDA position.

"We had such a broad range of representatives from the United States, and we've agreed to work together as a group," Dr. Gipson said. He said he will also provide the OIE with a list of U.S. experts in animal welfare.

The OIE embarked on the task of developing animal welfare standards in 2001 after the organization's member countries decided that, as the international animal health organization, the OIE is the best suited to provide leadership on animal welfare issues. To satisfy that need, the OIE created a permanent working group on animal welfare in May 2002. Its first priority will be to address the welfare of animals used in agriculture and aquaculture, specifically transport, humane slaughter, and killing for disease control purposes. As time and resources permit, the OIE will expand the scope of its efforts to address the welfare of animals used in research, entertainment, and exhibition, and as companions.

Ad hoc groups have been created to address each of the priority areas, and those groups will develop guidelines for each area. Stakeholders will then be given an opportunity to comment on the guidelines, and further revisions will be made. Additionally, the OIE will work to identify areas where research is needed, encourage collaboration between research centers, and offer expertise on welfare issues.