Group seeks voluntary international animal welfare standards
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By Breanne Brammer
WASHINGTON, July 9, 2014 - As the meat and poultry trade continues to grow globally, members of the supply chain are looking for ways to ensure that the end-product is not only safe and cost-effective, but meets increasing consumer demands for animal welfare.
“The last thing a company wants is to have some country ban the import of a product, for example chicken, from one country because they don't think the animals were handled in a humane fashion prior to processing,” says Craig Morris, deputy administrator of the USDA Livestock, Poultry and Seed Program. “This disrupts the ability of that firm to source the product and for the accused country to deal with what would then become ‘surplus' product with no readily available sales opportunity.”
Morris leads the U.S. delegation in a working group within the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that is trying to come up with a voluntary set of standards for animal welfare. Now, after years of negotiations, Morris said a draft of the standards may be ready by the end of next year.
Measures are needed as meat production rises due to increased global demand. In 2012, global meat production was around 304 million tons. According to the World Health Organization, output is projected to reach 376 million tons by 2030. The most dramatic growth is in Asian countries - many of which lack even minimal animal welfare standards
“In general, the food industry isn't looking for changes in the way we treat, transport or slaughter food-producing animals in the U.S,” Morris said. “They simply want a level playing field to be set so that they can make decisions related to which markets they source products from based upon other reasons besides animal welfare.”
The voluntary measures would be adopted by the animal food industry to further comply with standards already in place that were set by the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The ISO group wants to ensure all countries are in compliance with OIE. There are 12 OIE animal welfare standards, including recommendations for commercial cattle production systems, broiler chicken production systems and animal transportation by land, sea and air.
“OIE standards are primarily intended to ensure a common playing field between governments to ensure the free flow of animals and animal products in international trade,” Morris said. ISO standards will have more industry involvement.
The Geneva-based ISO was founded in 1947 with the mission to create voluntary international standards so that industries could become more effective. The independent, non-government organization is comprised of members of national standard bodies from 161 countries. Its standards are developed through global consensus and help promote international trade. Currently there are more than 19,500 sets of standards which cover everything from environmental management, to food quality, information security and language codes.
Morris said the effort has strong support from multinational food companies, such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kellogg and others. Companies wish to see the living conditions of animals raised for food production improved worldwide and not make animal welfare an international trade barrier.
Morris said his role is to identify consensus positions within multiple stakeholders of the agricultural industry such as producers, processors, restaurant chains and animal welfare groups.
The group met in May at OIE headquarters in Paris to finalize the results of an impact survey that assessed existing animal welfare conditions and global authorities. The U.S. is represented by a Technical Advisory Group that includes 48 members in academia, industry and animal welfare. There are more than 30 countries involved with the effort.
Representatives from the National Beef Cattleman's Association and Animal Agriculture Alliance aren't as confident about the timeline that Morris has described. They suggest that finishing the ISO draft by the end of 2015 is an overly ambitious goal.
Mallory Gaines, a policy analyst with NCBA, is a beef industry representative in the advisory group. She said three recommendations resulted from the Paris meeting. First, a drafting group was established, second the drafting group will identify how the future work will advance and third, countries will share information where industry guidelines aligned with the current OIE standards on animal welfare.
Gaines said NCBA would not support implementation of standards that bring extra costs to producers or that adversely impacts trade. The beef industry already complies with a Beef Quality Assistance Program through its own set of standards, like other U.S. meat sectors.
Rafael E. Rivera, manager of food safety and production programs at the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, has also been involved with the industry side of the coalition. Rivera said his main concern is to ensure ISO does not create more regulation for U.S. industries
Sara Shields represented Humane Society International in Paris. She said an agreement is important because it will help implement animal welfare standards in areas of the world that have not previously had such measures.
“We see this as a positive development and a testament that animal welfare is becoming a global endeavor,” Shields said. “It's evidence there is a change in societal view on animals, even those raised for food.”
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