WHEN the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) first proposed about 10 years ago that it would establish international standards for animal welfare, it caught most of animal agriculture off guard.
After all, OIE's issue is animal health, not welfare. However, OIE countered that animal care and treatment affect animal health and that, as an organization dedicated to animal health, it was only logical that it should set standards for animal welfare.
Animal agriculture realized that the agenda was in motion and that it could either sit out and take what would come from the process or get involved and make the most of the situation.
Getting involved was a good decision, according to Dr. Paul Sundberg, vice president for science and technology at the National Pork Board. "It's been a fairly successful process," he said during an interview with Feedstuffs.
The process began "not well," Sundberg said, explaining that OIE recruited the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to head the standard setting and that ISO headed into its charge "before the horse was ready." It began defining animal behaviors and drafting animal welfare principles with little input from producers, veterinarians and animal scientists, he said.
However, "we (in animal agriculture) were able to pull back on the reins and convince ISO that the standards needed to be outcome and science based," Sundberg said, and this got the effort going in the right way.
Indeed, OIE now has international standards for transporting animals by land, sea and air, for the slaughter of animals for disease control, for the use of animals in education and research and for the control of stray dog populations. It also completed its "chapter" on beef cattle production last year.
Sundberg explained how the process works.
ISO has an interest or organization in each nation that "speaks" for ISO in the various countries throughout the world. In the U.S., the ISO interest is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
ANSI has recruited the American Oil Chemists' Society (AOCS) to lead the collection of information for the U.S. to present to ANSI for ANSI to then present to ISO. More than 70 groups, from animal production representatives to animal activists, belong to the AOCS collective.
ISO and OIE then form working groups from different regions of the world to review the information fed into ISO to set standards, and these groups provide additional opportunities for animal agriculture to deliver input.
The chapter on animal welfare for broiler chickens is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, and the chapters on dairy cattle, laying hens and swine are to be completed at the end of 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Industry involvement, including pork industry involvement, is critical, Sundberg said.
For instance, OIE has now adopted "guiding principles for animal welfare," and included in the principles are five internationally recognized "freedoms": (1) freedom from hunger and thirst, (2) freedom from fear and distress, (3) freedom from injury, pain and disease, (4) freedom from physical and thermal discomfort and (5) freedom to express normal patterns of behavior.
As for the last of these freedoms, the beef chapter has been amended to say that cattle that are tethered should, "as a minimum, be able to lie down, stand up, turn around and walk," Sundberg said.
The amendment has not yet been approved, but if it is approved, it's likely that the concept will be incorporated into the other chapters, which could affect the gestation stall versus group pen debate in the swine chapter, he said.
Sundberg said there are major upsides to OIE's international animal welfare standards.
One, he said, is that the standards will be ISO certified and harmonized to the extent that countries around the world must recognize them as international standards. This will allow industries like the U.S. pork industry to access markets and keep markets open, i.e., countries cannot deny or stop trade based on conflicting animal welfare standards, Sundberg said.
Second, ISO certification is perceived very highly around the world, which means that U.S. pork production's ISO status will provide foodservice and retail customers as well as consumers with important new confidence in the quality and safety of pork, Sundberg said.
ISO is currently drafting certification procedures with advice from representatives of a large number of countries, including the U.S., as well as food manufacturers and international organizations.