Animal welfare and food safety are not just gaining attention with U.S. consumers, they also are hot topics at the international level. Anticipation was that these two areas would surface during World Trade Organization meetings. In fact, during WTO's Animal Health (OIE) meeting – animal welfare and food safety – were identified as priorities in the 2001-2005 OIE Strategic Plan.

The thought is that, being the international reference organization for animal health and zoonoses, OIE needs to provide worldwide leadership in the animal welfare area. What's more, member countries believe that OIE needs to expand its activities to food safety– including setting standards.

In terms of animal welfare, OIE has focused on agriculture and aquaculture, focusing on transportation, humane slaughter and disease-control slaughtering. Following that will be housing and management. OIE will report on those two areas at the General Session in May 2003, says Michael Meredith, a pork industry consultant in the United Kingdom.

OIE has always focused on world-wide control of epidemic animal diseases. However, that area has received some bad press in recent years, particularly from animal-rights activitists.

He points to the 1997/1998 Dutch hog cholera epidemic and the British episode in 2000, which caused animals to backlog due to movement restrictions. Those events created some animal well-being concerns. Things only intensified in 2001, during the United Kingdom's foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. More than animal handling, overcrowding stress, disease build-up and other animal well-being concerns, there was the problem of slaughtering large numbers of animals on the farm.

The second reason for OIE's focus on animal welfare is the expansion of national and international animal-welfare legislation. Some countries are seeing this as a marketing opportunity, some may see it as an opportunity to proctect their markets, still others simply want to ensure that all suppliers follow equal animal-welfare standards.

Similarly, OIE has long focused on food safety, but the new emphasis is to reduce animal-origin, foodborne risks to human health– specifically from biological, chemical or physical hazards. Some topics that will fall into this category are antibiotics, foodborne pathogens and biotechnology.

To be sure, whether it occurs at home or abroad, food safety and animal welfare will continue dominate food-system discussions– and it will influence the U.S. pork industry's future of marketing its products.

What is OIE?

OIE coordinates the activities of, and is a liaision between, government veterinary services around the world, points out Michael Meredith, a UK pork industry consultant. It also works in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

OIE now uses the name "World Organization for Animal Health" - it was originally called The Office International des Epizooties and is still popularly known as OIE. Most countries in the world are members, and represented via their Chief Veterinary Officers and State Veterinary Services. 

AASV Newsletter/Michael Meredith