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The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is first and foremost an international reference point for matters relating to animal health. However, in 2001, animal welfare was identified as a priority and a decision was made to develop guidelines for a range of animal welfare practices. Work is also progressing on the development of production standards for beef cattle, meat chickens and dairy cattle. The following guidelines have been developed to date:
· Transport of animals by land, sea and air
· Slaughter of animals
· Killing of animals for disease control
· Control of stray dogs
· Use of animals in research
· Welfare of farmed fish during transport
· Welfare aspects of stunning and killing farmed fish
These are available on the OIE website. The key aim of the OIE guidelines is to provide a framework around which animal welfare improvements, including legislation, can be built. The guidelines are not mandatory and there is no obligation on OIE member states to comply.
The OIE has 178 member countries and, when it comes to the state of animal welfare, there are wide-ranging differences. In general, animal welfare tends to be given a higher priority in developed countries and no or low priority in other countries. Regardless, there is plenty of room for improvement in all member states.
One of the ways in which the RSPCA is able to influence change at the OIE level is through Australia’s delegate – the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer – who represents the position of the Australian Government on all matters relating to animal health and welfare. A change to the OIE animal welfare guidelines, for example, which any country may propose, is subject to a lengthy consultation process that lasts about two years. During this time, scientific evidence supporting the change is also gathered. Adoption of a change normally occurs by consensus at the OIE’s World Assembly by which time the country proposing the change will have garnered support from sufficient member states to ensure an affirmative vote.
At present, the RSPCA is urging for the inclusion of mandatory stunning in the OIE slaughter guidelines. Stunning ensures the animal is unconscious and insensible to pain before it has its throat cut and dies from loss of blood. Although the introduction of mandatory stunning in all OIE member countries may be a long way off, we are confident of the support of the Australian Government in our efforts to achieve this.