Adrian Sanders MP writes…The Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare should be taken up on an international level

Benjamin BunnyLast May the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) was granted General Consultative status at the United Nations. This is the only international animal welfare organisation with such status, and the decision represented a positive development for animal welfare on the global agenda.

However, more needs to be done. By encouraging the support of international organisations, we can ensure that effective animal welfare strategies are not just kept to the west and within the European Union. Instead, bodies like the United Nations can help support animal welfare improvements in less well developed countries by providing a basis for animal welfare legislation where this cannot be a priority.

Previous actions to support the Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare (UDAW) tried to do this. Based on the belief that our close interaction with animals means that we have a responsibility to protect their welfare, the declaration makes three agreements; that animals are sentient, that the welfare needs of animals should be recognised, and that animal cruelty must end for good.

Back in April 2008 Eric Martlew MP tabled a parliamentary motion which called on the Government to ‘give its full and publicly stated support for this initiative, including active support within the European Union and United Nations’. This gained the support of 230 MPs and at the European Union. However, even with the support of British Parliament, the European Union and many other international organisations, the legislation has not been put in place at the international level.

I believe that we should be doing more to encourage the introduction of such legislation. It is necessary to ensure that a global standard is in place for the welfare of animals. An international strategy can help to improve attitudes towards animal welfare as well as encourage industries to give more consideration to the welfare of animals in their policies and actions. This will not only have a positive effect for the animals, but will in turn also benefit people.

The welfare of animals can have a large impact on our everyday lives. An international strategy can, by improving the situation of many animals, improve productivity and stability for those that rely on animals for their livelihood.

Further,  ensuring good animal care can help reduce the possibilities of disease and can benefit food supplies, reducing the risk of food contamination and, in some cases, food poisoning.

These seem like valuable reasons to encourage the uptake of an international declaration.

On 15 October I secured a debate regarding the sentencing tariffs for offences against animals. Parliament debated existing legislation and penalties in the UK for cruelty against animals, in particular, those used in cock and dog fights.  The Animal Welfare Act 2006, reviewed in 2010, provides some deterrents for these type of actions, which work along with licensing and other methods to stop people from engaging in these sports.

But this type of discussion is not encouraged beyond the consultation process at the United Nations. Instead there are countries where a similar body to our RSPCA does not exist and the distressing stories associated with dog and cockfighting prevail. With the introduction of a declaration like the UDAW  it can be made a key position of the member countries of the United Nations; ensuring that animal cruelty is addressed globally and that the sentient and welfare of animals is recognised further.

* Adrian Sanders is a Focus deliver in Paignton, Devon, and was the MP for Torbay from 1997 to 2015.

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  • Seems like a poorly drafted proposal. In particular, the claim that ‘animals are sentient – they can suffer and feel pain’ is almost unquestionably false in general (does C. elegans feel pain? What about a flea or a bedbug?). Meanwhile welfare needs and cruelty are left undefined and undescribed; leaving it open to abuse both from the howling loony wing of the animal rights movement (e.g. PETA) and lacking in potency to tackle actual abuse. Finally, it fails as an ethical statement because it lacks the necessary balance with human rights and needs or any consideration of how animal rights are to balanced against each other.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 24th Oct '13 - 11:15am

    So, I take it Adrian Sanders will soon be introducing a bill to outlaw the killing of animals in abattoirs without pre-stunning them? And will he also be introducing a bill to ensure that all non pre-stunned meat is labeled to allow consumers to make an informed choice?

  • This is all violins on the way to the gas chamber. So an animal is tortured for its entire life and then we are meant to think that we are being “humane” and generous because it is pre-stunned before it is executed. Get real, the only way to stop animal suffering is to stop consuming animal products which will coincidentally stop a huge amount of environmental destruction.

  • Any global agreement is incredibly hard to reach and provides a basis for developments in future decades, so anything in this area is probably better than nothing.

    I was going to raise the same point as Jack though. I don’t think it is true that all animals are “sentient”. Sponges are animals but don’t even have nervous systems! The rights of (non-human) great apes and dolphins should be greater than the rights of sponges. Using “animals” to mean “non-human animals” also seems to undermine the point of such campaigns: much better to remind people that they are animals too.

    The issue of stunning in Graham’s comment raises an important point. Article 9 of the European Convention on *Human* Rights, as far as I’m aware, appears to allow any torture of any non-human animals, so long as it is for religious reasons. As Jack says, ultimately we need to make clear how these different sets of rights interact. In this case, that means incorporating into human rights the notion that non-human welfare is a legitimate reason to restrict religious freedom of *action*.

  • Britain’s already got swathes of animal welfare legislation and there’s a new act roughly every half an hour. If you are going to be an MP find something useful to do with it. This is utterly pointless.

  • Great post Adrian – I have been waiting for a Lib Dem MP to take up animal welfare issues (apart from the disastrous and inhumane badger cull which I hope will go the same way the Home Office vans).

    @Lucas Amos. Your views are way too simplistic. Most of the animals you refer to would not exist if they were not being reared. The UK has some of the highest welfare standards for animal husbandry in the world – most farmers I know, love their animals, and are torn at the time that they are sold for slaughter. Farm animals contribute in a major way to maintaining many of our most beautiful landscapes – the downs, meadows – quite apart from bringing interest and life to our countryside. Yes, we are probably eating too much meat – but bear in mind much of our island nation is optimal for animal husbandry rather than crop cultivation from an agro-climatic perspective.

  • Melanie Harvey 26th Oct '13 - 1:20am

    Until human suffering poverty and/or harassment ceases and eradicated, the fight for the animals to be treated fairly is a losing battle.

  • There is a big difference between cruelty and welfare, cruelty is leaving animals in cages and subjecting them to “experiments” to “learn” and then, after years of pain killing them when they are no longer needed even though humans and animals have a completely different biological makeup which will not benefit us long term. Welfare is rearing animals and giving them a good quality of life! Farm animals are produce, they have a good quality of life until slaughtered, an animal being subjected to needless harm for no reason other than scientists playing god is cruel. Animals have been farmed and reared for produce for a lot longer then this fairly resent cruelty of Animals. Death to an animal takes seconds in most cases, experiments can take years of pain and suffering!!

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