ANALYSIS - A new nation by nation index of animal welfare practices has been launched by World Animal Protection to help countries benchmark their welfare systems and legislation and improve measure to protect animals and people.
The Animal Protection Index (API) establishes a classification of 50 countries around the world according to their commitments to protect animals and improve animal welfare in policy and legislation.
The index was established by WAP after consultation with numerous groups including Compassion in World Farming, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International and the RSPCA as well as governments around the world.
In all 50 countries were assessed by World Animal Protection on their animal welfare policy and legislation, clearly identifying where improvements can be made to protect animals and people.
The index was established after a pilot phase with eight countries and following consultation with the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) and the measurement of the standards in place are based around the five freedoms that is already well established in animal welfare guides.
The index was set up in consultation with governments on the welfare standards that were already in existence and also by using comparisons with other indices measuring countries’ performance around the world.
“Countries will know where there are legislative gaps,” said Ricardo Fajardo, head of policy and advocacy at World Animal Protection.
“We worked with government before putting out the publications, and we received comments from chief veterinary officers. It has been a process of engagement.”
Mr Fajardo said that no single country will receive a perfect score in the index as “there are areas even for the best to improve”.
He said the index will help to provide the tools for countries to improve their welfare practices and legislation and already WAP is seeing chief veterinary officers asking for help for they can improve.
He added that the benchmarking index will help countries improve their education and understanding about animal welfare and help them participate in education programmes to improve.
Mr Fajardo added that one area of contention is the enforcement of welfare legislation within different countries and WAP is working with the United Nations for accreditation.
“Once you have the legislative commitment, however, it is easy to work through,” Mr Fajardo said.
However, he said that for some countries, where there is already a strong structure of legislation on welfare practice, there are concerns that the criteria for the index do not go far enough.
“But different countries will have a different approach to sort out their own legislative problems,” he said.
“We have to have something that is basic to fit in with the legislative structure of countries around the world, so we insist on the OIE standards.
“There are countries in every continent that are on the index and there are some countries that are doing very well and others that are not doing so well.”
However, Mr Fajardo said that the benchmarking between countries needs to be taken between countries that have achieved similar progress in welfare improvement and legislation and have similar wealth and development for further welfare improvements to be made.
At present, the index shows that many countries have been ranked very poor for animal welfare, due to issues ranging from intensive farming and illegal wildlife trafficking to the culling of stray animals -- all proven threats of disease outbreak.
But WAP says that the index sends a powerful message for governments to take notice and improve animal welfare which will in turn help to combat threats of zoonotic diseases, such as rabies, salmonella and most recently Ebola.
Good animal welfare practices can help prevent disease, by keeping animals clean, in stable conditions with no overcrowding, to targeting bigger issues such as ending illegal trade of animals, which will reduce the risks associated with moving infected animals through commercial trade routes.
Whilst there are encouraging signs from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Switzerland and Austria, who are rated with the highest scores, World Animal Protection said it is calling on all governments to immediately improve their animal welfare standards and factor these issues into current, critical debates on food, public health and sustainable development.
Mike Baker, Chief Executive at World Animal Protection said: “The Animal Protection Index is a breakthrough project, uniquely bringing together global animal welfare policy and legislation.
“The results of the index speak for themselves - governments must take action to protect animals and recognise that the welfare of animals is inextricably linked to people’s health.”