Scientists and other experts are calling on governments to start including animal welfare in sustainable development governance now in order to work towards a healthier, more resilient, and more sustainable world for all.
The CABI One Health journal has published a commentary from a team of experts ahead of the UN Stockholm+50 Conference on 2 and 3 June 2022. The commentary explains why animals matter for sustainable development and why sustainable development matters for animals, and calls on governments to ‘recognize the importance of animal welfare for sustainable development, and to aspire to harm animals less and benefit them more as part of sustainable development governance.’
As of 23 May 2022, the commentary had already been supported by over 180 experts in policy, law, ethics, and science.
Stockholm+50 will commemorate the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and celebrate 50 years of global environmental action. The event aims to act as a springboard accelerate the implementation of the UN Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, including the 2030 Agenda, Paris Agreement on climate change, the post-2020 global Biodiversity Framework. It also aims to encourage the adoption of green post-COVID-19 recovery plans.
However, the commentary highlights that in the 50 years since the first UN Conference on the Human Environment, animal welfare continues to be neglected in sustainable development governance. As a stark example, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 169 targets, some of which deal with protecting animal species, biodiversity, and habitats. Yet the Agenda does not consider animal welfare. According to the authors, this is an important oversight.
“Human, animal, and environmental health are linked,” explained Jeff Sebo, Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Affiliated Professor of Bioethics, Medical Ethics, Philosophy, and Law, and Director of the Animal Studies M.A. Program at New York University, and a lead author of the commentary. “Governments need to take steps to include animals in sustainable development governance for the sake of human and nonhuman animals alike.”
As an example of how our treatment of animals affects our ability to achieve sustainable development, the commentary emphasizes that animal agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change. It also notes that in most cases animal agriculture consumes ‘much more land and water’ and produces ‘much more waste and pollution’ than plant-based alternatives.
The commentary emphasizes that industrial animal agriculture contributes to infectious disease emergence as well. This food system keeps domesticated animals in cramped conditions and overuses antibiotics to stimulate growth and suppress disease, thereby allowing infectious diseases to develop and spread. The current bird flu outbreaks, which have already led to the culling of millions of birds worldwide, illustrate this risk all too well.
“COVID-19 reminds us that industries like industrial animal agriculture and the wildlife trade not only harm and kill many animals per year but also contribute to global health and environmental threats that imperil us all,” said Cleo Verkuijl, Research Fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute and the other lead author of the commentary.
The commentary highlights the ‘One Health’ approach – which recognises the interlinkages between human, animal, and environmental health – as a ‘promising framework for improving global health’ but notes that ‘standard interpretations of One Health are ‘anthropocentric, in that they tend to value non-human animals primarily for the sake of humans, which can lead to policies that harm and neglect non-humans unnecessarily.’
The experts welcome additional signatories to their call for governments to recognise the ‘intrinsic value of animals and consider their interests when making policy decisions that affect them.’ They also call on governments to ‘support informational, financial, and regulatory policies that reduce our use of animals and increase our support for animals in co-beneficial ways,’ and to reflect the importance of animal welfare in Stockholm+50 and other UN outcome documents.
“For high income and low income countries alike, there are significant environmental, health, and economic benefits to improving animal welfare,” stressed Maria José Hötzel, Professor of Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil. “Governments cannot afford to wait another 50 years to take this issue seriously,” she added.