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Australian animal welfare on the international stage

Australia’s commitment to world-class standards of animal welfare domestically translates to a commitment to encourage the improvement of animal welfare in other countries.

As one of the leading developed country members of the World Organization for Animal Health (Office International des Epizooties, or OIE), Australia takes seriously its obligation to promote the OIE guidelines as the preferred global standards for the humane treatment of animals.

The OIE, which was formed in 1924 and has 172 member countries and territories, is an intergovernmental organisation with a mandate from the World Trade Organization to improve animal health and welfare worldwide. Australia has been an active member of the OIE for many years and is committed to its principles and objectives.

Being a major exporter of live animals gives Australia an opportunity to work closely with countries to improve standards of animal handling, transport, holding and slaughter—both for the animals they are importing and their local animals.

This opportunity, combined with our commitment to promote the OIE animal welfare guidelines, has resulted in Australia working closely with live animal importing countries in the Middle East and Asia, encouraging them to introduce strengthened legislation and regulations that improve animal welfare.

Activities up to 2008

In the Middle East, Australia has convened workshops with the OIE in Doha, Muscat and Dubai to draft regional animal welfare plans covering animal welfare standards and laws, and associated infrastructure, communication, and education and training. The United Arab Emirates adopted new legislation based on these plans and Australia helped implement it.

In Asia, we ran workshops with the OIE in Bangkok for the OIE-defined region of Asia, the Far East and Oceania. In collaboration with other non-government organisations, such as the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the OIE has adapted the Gulf Cooperation Council model of animal welfare for the Asia region. OIE members endorsed the final Regional Animal Welfare Strategy for Asia, the Far East and Oceania in May 2008 and deemed it a good model for other parts of the world. A workshop to support implementation of the plan was scheduled for November 2008.

Because of our leadership in the animal welfare field, the OIE asked Australia, among other member countries, to speak about implementing the OIE welfare guidelines on animal transportation at its second global conference in Paris in late 2008.

Australia also worked in live animal importing countries to improve infrastructure for the unloading, transport, holding and slaughter of animals and to provide training in improved animal handling techniques. This work has been conducted in close cooperation with industry and the governments of the importing countries.

An initial commitment of $4 million was made for this activity between 2004 and 2008, and this has now been extended by a further $4.2 million. This will enable Australia to build on its activities to improve the humane treatment of animals in many livestock importing countries.

Australia takes best practice to the United Arab Emirates

Australia brought knowledge and skills from across the country to its work with live export trading partners on improving the treatment of animals in transit and after arrival.

In February 2008 the United Arab Emirates (UAE) contacted Australia seeking assistance with its federal animal welfare law.

Dr Peter Thornber, from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s Animal Welfare Branch, has been active for several years in the evolution of international animal welfare standards and is now playing an instrumental role in the work with the UAE.

Together with Dr Robin Vandegraaff, retired Chief Veterinary Officer of South Australia, Dr Thornber advised the UAE Government on establishing an animal welfare office and drafting animal welfare regulations and guidelines.

The UAE is a federation of seven Arab states, or emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Al Fujayrah, Ash Shariqah (Sharjah), Dubai, Ra’s al Khaymah and Umm al Qaywayn (Quwayn).

According to Dr Thornber, the UAE vigorously pushed the animal welfare agenda.

‘Animal welfare is being recognised as a driving element within the UAE’s international trade, particularly with Australia. Additionally, the huge horse racing industry and the growth of overseas organisations and families setting up in the UAE mean animal welfare must meet international standards,’ Dr Thornber said.

The UAE first published its animal welfare law in September 2007. It then wanted to develop regulations and penalties for the welfare law and to develop guidelines for welfare inspectors, but it needed help to do that.

Dr Thornber and Dr Vandegraaff travelled to the UAE in March 2008, taking with them the most contemporary animal welfare regulations developed in Australia.

‘Originally we were meant to assist with the formation of the UAE animal welfare office and the drafting of the regulations, and provide advice on an implementation framework. However, we ended up co-chairing a two-day workshop to focus on what else was needed to implement the regulations,’ said Dr Thornber.

‘Australia could not have any more influence than to write their regulations and infrastructure and policy framework. The UAE didn’t ask the European Union or United States. They came to Australia because of our reputation in this area.’

Listen to the interview with Dr Peter Thornber

Transcript of interview