The Animal Welfare Act and the implications of the duty of care towards animals as set out in the Act have tended to dominate the agendas of animal welfare organisations over the past year. In this Spring quarter I would like to move the focus of AWSELVA’s efforts to the world’s poorer countries and international development. Sustainable development is the holy grail of the development sector and seeks to achieve a balance between the three pillars of economic growth, environmental protection and social justice. There is a powerful argument that animal welfare should form a fourth pillar. At the 5th International Colloquium on working equines, held in Ethiopia in October 2006, Dr Kate Rawles a well known environmental philosopher and ethicist lectured on environmental philosophy and the importance of animals in sustainable development. For example, working equine animals minimise soil damage, provide valuable natural fertiliser and leave a carbon footprint smaller than internal combustion engines.
Leah Garces, Campaigns Director of WSPA wrote recently that “Animal welfare is critical to the progress and development of a nation and its people. In changing a society’s perception and treatment of animals, you can change much more than just animal welfare. You can change a society’s ability to have compassion, to reach out to the voiceless and helpless and to empathise. The benefits of such a change are tremendously far-reaching.” We are in danger of importing our animal welfare problems into the developing world. Production based on utility and intensification can be seen from Afghanistan to Mexico. Small-scale livestock production is being replaced by industrial systems that do not adequately provide for animal welfare.
A further issue is that of the supply of animals such as goats or donkeys to poor communities, as promoted by some international charities. Without the parallel introduction of the appropriate knowledge of husbandry and welfare and veterinary medicine, such schemes can lead to poor animal care and poor welfare. The point I am making is that animals are critically important to developing communities, for traction, food, clothing and manure. Animal dependence is increasing, both to reduce human labour, especially that of women, and for economic growth but developing nations often have little intrinsic sense of the concepts or importance of animal welfare.
A primary aim of AWSELVA in 2007/8 will be to establish dialogue with major international development groups to define the role of animal welfare in sustainable development and to establish that fourth pillar. Your suggestions for initiatives to support this aim would be most welcome.