Welfare Standards to be Raised

Expecting to come into effect this year, The General Principles of Animal Welfare Assessment provide compulsory standards largely targeted at the treatment of livestock.
calendar icon 21 November 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

Launched by the Ministry of Agriculture and drafted by a panel of veterinarians, scholars, as well as meat and dairy industry experts, the regulation is attempting to introduce animal welfare into industry standards.

In 2010, legal experts drafted a version on China's Animal Welfare Law that is intended to criminalize maltreatment of animals and fine those who eat dogs. However, it was substantially watered down after public objection.

"One reason was the lack of sufficient scientific evidence and a guiding principle to assess what animal welfare is," said Jia Zili, secretary-general of Chinese Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Health Service and Welfare Branch.

"That's what we are doing now (with the general principles) — telling the public what animal welfare is and how it should be assessed."

According to experts who took part in writing the forthcoming regulation, the reasons behind wanting to protect animal welfare are both commercial and ethical. Whatever the motivation, for Min Chengjun, manager of fresh produce for Yurun Group, a pork company in Jiangsu province, quality is a driving force to changing attitudes.

"Take, for example, preventing disease," he said.

"Improving animals' living conditions and putting them in a hygienic environment prevents diseases and therefore boosts profitability.

"Also, when animals are under great stress, it results in lower-quality meat."

Min added that sufficient research shows that when pigs are upset, their meat becomes pale, soft and exudative; or dark, firm and dry, affecting its price.

"It's simple: Consumers want to buy meat from healthy pigs," Min Chengjun said.

Maintaining trust

Farmers have been keeping livestock for human consumption for thousands of years, and experts agree that the vast majority of farmers already understand that their fate is inextricably linked to the well-being and quality of their animals.

Yet, as the country has continued on a path of rapid urbanization, the gap between farmers and consumers has widened, causing distrust, according to Qiao Lu, director of the Beijing Sanyuan Luhe Dairy Cattle Center.

"Consumers know less and less about the way farm animals are treated," he said.

"For us, the adoption of standards that meet animal welfare requirements is necessary to maintain confidence in livestock products."

Images of pig farmer Huang Demin making his livestock airborne in Central China's Hunan province were widely circulated on the Web this week, prompting equal measures of curiosity and criticism.

Most do not like the experience, he concedes, yet he believes it boosts the animals' appetite, so they grow faster.

"What this farmer is doing is against the pigs' nature," said Gu Xianhong, professor at the Institute of Animal Sciences under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

"Making the pigs dive, he said, "merely makes the animals anxious and therefore violates their welfare".

The General Principles of Animal Welfare Assessment aims to curb such activities.

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