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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 standards for a range of animal welfare practices.
The standards in the OIE’s Terrestrial Animal Health Code initially addressed animal health and zoonoses (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) only but have been expanded to include animal welfare and food safety. To date, the following animal welfare-related standards have been developed within the Terrestrial Animal Health Code:
The OIE’s Aquatic Animal Health Code has a section dedicated to the welfare of farmed fish.
The key aim of the OIE standards is to provide a framework around which animal welfare improvements, including legislation, can be built. The standards are not mandatory and there is no obligation on OIE member states to comply.
The OIE has 182 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 standards, 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 of Delegates by which time the country proposing the change will have garnered support from sufficient member states to ensure an affirmative vote.
RSPCA Australia is also a member of the International Coalition for Animal Welfare (ICFAW) which represents a large number of non-governmental animal welfare organisations from all over the world. Members of the ICFAW coalition provide expert advice to the OIE and contribute to the development of the OIE’s standards. Members of the coalition also help developing countries to implement the OIE standards.
Because animal health and animal welfare are inherently linked, the RSPCA believes that the OIE has a major role to play in improving the welfare of animals across the world.