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Don’t be excited about the U.N. animal welfare policy updates

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Feedstuffs reports that some new animal welfare policy recommendations were given a thumbs up at The U.N. Committee of World Food Security meeting last week. Like all animal welfare measures, the focus is on industry and the people who support it, and animals are no better off for it.

The U.N.’s recommendations include promoting the use of antibiotics except when unnecessary, improving animal health through biosafety, access to sustainable feeding practices with good quality feed, and promoting environments that comply with the standards already in place. It’s all a fancy way of saying they’ll continue to “care” for their animals in a way that keeps them productive as commodities for humans; mostly making sure their level of welfare is in line with what’s currently marketable (think “cage-free”).

Perhaps worst of all is their agreement to “improve” on the World Organization for Animal Health’s (OIE) “five freedoms”;  that’s freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst; fear and distress; physical and thermal discomfort; pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour. There is no way to kill a living being that doesn’t breed fear, distress, pain, and injury- namely death. The other “freedoms” are a given, because you can’t sell malnourished, sick, or injured animals. Once again, we’re to believe that if the conditions are suitable by legislative standards, the act of exploitation is suitable, too.

Lesley Mitchell, head of policy at World Animal Protection, believes this move will better food security, tackle sustainable development, and end world hunger (look, no mention of animals again). The sustainable word is incorrectly thrown around a couple more times, with the equally irresponsible “improved nutrition” label. But Mitchell’s work, and the work of many others, on the “Sustainable Agricultural Development for Food Security & Nutrition: What Roles for Livestock?” study for the FAO, focuses on balance between welfare and increasing production and efficiency. They’re not interested in saving animals, or in ending exploitation- they’re hardly interested in helping humans. They know (and don’t hide) that consumers will pay more for products that are high on the welfare standards scale, and that livestock industries need to partner with Government to shape these reforms.

So what am I getting at? It’s easy for people to mistake the work of these governing bodies as something that’s going to make a positive change for animals, or for us. Truth is, the only real change that can help human and non-human animals is veganism. It starts with each of us deciding that better conditions for animals isn’t enough, and that we’ve had enough of the deceptive marketing it outputs to humans. Until we stop getting excited about all these greedy welfare reforms, they’ll continue to benefit the exploiters far above their victims.

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