Improving animal welfare in agricultural development can make a significant contribution towards the achievement of food security; and the production of safe, healthy, nutritious food. Higher-welfare systems are needed in order to safeguard and develop local production/consumption systems and to ensure future sustainability, food safety, and human health. The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition mentions the importance of animal welfare in its 2016 report stating that “Animal welfare is linked to economic development and the education, cultural practices, religious beliefs and knowledge of farmers. Improving animal welfare can contribute to both resilience and resource efficiency.”[viii]
For these reasons, World Animal Net has for several years been engaged with a multi-stakeholder partnership along with the World Bank, Wageningen University and Research (WUR), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). This project is called the “Wageningen process”, and its goal is to develop “Good Practices for Animal Welfare in Development”. These will support the broader development and cooperation community in assisting Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) with the effective implementation of good animal welfare practices for the sustainable development of the agricultural sector. The project provides practical guidance and promotes the implementation of good animal welfare practices in agricultural development activities. Currently, guidelines for implementing good animal welfare practices for pigs are nearing completion. Work is slated to begin in September 2019 on a set of guidelines for working equine welfare and a set of guidelines for broiler chicken welfare.
The introduction of industrial animal agriculture systems in developing countries can result in increased food insecurity. This is because such systems are concentrated in the hands of a small number of major commercial interests, which mainly produce for more lucrative export and urban markets. They compete unfairly with local, small-scale producers and often put them out of business or integrate them as contract producers—incrementally eliminating sustainable, local production. They are also import and technology dependent, which can increase insecurity, especially due to factors such as: lack of plant maintenance, technical expertise and equipment supplies (especially in cases where there is lack of expertise and experience with modern systems and technologies, and where there is not a culture or tradition of regular maintenance); insecure power supplies; and volatile global trade/market and currency fluctuations.
Industrial animal production systems decouple animals from the land by relying on feed inputs like grains and soy, also grown intensively and which could otherwise be used to directly feed humans. According to the World Economic Forum[ix], this means that up to 20% of calories produced per person today are lost to feeding animals. More people could be fed, using less land, by reducing the amount of grain fed to animals rather than humans. The sheer scale of the losses entailed in feeding cereals to animals means that this practice is increasingly being recognized as undermining food security. The UN FAO states that further use of cereals as animal feed could threaten food security by reducing the grain available for human consumption[x].
Furthermore, these close-confinement animal systems and crop monocultures are particularly vulnerable to disease and accidents, increasing food insecurity and health risks. Various pharmaceutical and chemical inputs are used, including antibiotics, to keep such systems functional in the short-term, but these have detrimental impacts over the longer term (in terms of sustainable food security; as well as health, environment and animal welfare).
Animals only contribute to food security when they are converting materials that people cannot consume – such as grass, crop residues, and unavoidable food waste – into food that we can eat. This is what happens in small-scale, high welfare, agroecological production. Such systems provide local food security; and do so in a manner which replenishes and protects natural resources and the soil for the benefit of future generations.
Good animal welfare includes the use of agroecological systems, such as raising animals on extensive pastures and rangeland and integrated crop/livestock production. These systems restore the link between animals and the land, enhance sustainability and contribute to food security. One example is silvopastoral systems for cattle that, alongside pasture also provide shrubs (preferably leguminous) and trees with edible leaves and shoots. Such systems do not need synthetic fertilizers, produce more biomass than conventional pasture and hence result in increased meat and milk production.[xi]
Good animal welfare also includes improved healthcare and nutrition for the animals through better disease prevention and management, which results in increased livestock productivity and quality. This will improve smallholders’ purchasing power, making them better able to buy the food that they do not produce, further supporting food security.
World Animal Net’s joint project with the World Bank and other partners is ultimately contributing to creating a more food-secure, Zero Hunger planet and is shedding light on how animal welfare and the SDGs are inextricably linked.
[viii] HLPE. 2016. Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: what roles for livestock? A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome.
[ix] World Economic Forum. Can eating less meat really tackle climate change?
[x] Food and Agriculture Organization. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock, Rome Italy. http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e00.htm