Latin America's welfare issues prevalent yet ignored

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Animal welfare is an emerging topic in Latin America because of its impact on animal health, international trade, economic viability, and consumer perception. And even though these developing countries face issues similar to those of wealthier ones, they deal with far different public opinions and reactions.

Dr. Nestor Tadich is dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Universidad Austral de Chile. He said because his country's people work with intensive farm systems, the nation deals a lot with animal welfare issues. Primary concerns revolve around husbandry conditions for poultry and swine, control of stray animals, and animal slaughter as a control measure during disease outbreaks.

At the same time, as a developing country, Chile is in a very different situation than countries in Europe or America are, he said. Many of the countries that are part of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Regional Commission for the Americas don't have legislation relating to animal welfare. According to a 2005 OIE questionnaire sent to 29 countries, only 11 have laws covering production animals and 15 have laws pertaining to companion animals.

Just four countries claim to have legislation based on the OIE standards: Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Columbia. For its part, Chile, through its Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Health Service, has recently been introducing OIE recommendations on animal welfare and production guidelines for best practices to farmers and veterinarians. Also, a new animal welfare law was passed by its congress Oct. 3, 2009.

To gauge how animal welfare is taught among Latin American countries, a survey was sent to veterinary schools, and 31 schools representing 12 nations responded.

Results indicated that animal welfare is taught in 22 of the responding schools. Except for Mexico and Argentina, which started animal welfare courses in the mid '90s, the schools began doing so after 2000. Only nine countries have specific courses. Postgraduate programs are available in four countries. Thirteen of the schools said they did not perform animal welfare research. Those that did research were focused largely on humane slaughter practices, wildlife, transportation, and husbandry.

Dr. Tadich said Latin American schools lack trained staff in animal welfare concepts and have an overloaded curricula and a lack of financial support for research in this field.

"It is still considered as a 'trend' with no practical application," he said, noting a persistent belief among the public that animal welfare is for the United States or Europe and not Latin America.

Further constraints come from a variety of factors. Chile and other countries have long-standing traditions involving the use of animals in rodeo events, bullfighting, cockfighting, and spiritual ceremonies. The country also has a high percentage of people living in marginal conditions; therefore, they are more concerned about human than animal well-being.

"Consumers are not fully aware of the meaning of animal welfare, and they are not willing to pay more for a product produced under animal welfare standards," Dr. Tadich said. "There is distrust toward people who encourage the observance of animal welfare standards at farm or industry levels. They think it is a radical movement, and there is confusion with radical animal rights groups."

And finally, Dr. Tadich said, appropriate legislation is lacking that would support the application of animal welfare recommendations, particularly in the areas of transportation, humane slaughter, stray dogs, and working animals.