Aimed at raising the status of the animals and improving their welfare standards across the globe, on 04 October, every year, World Animal Day or World Animal Welfare Day is celebrated.

Animal welfare refers to the physical and psychological well-being of an animal or it can be described as good or high if the individual is fit, healthy, free to express natural behaviour, free from suffering and in a positive state of well-being.

Over 1 billion of the world’s poor depend on animals for livelihood, food, income, transport, social status and cultural identification. Good welfare practices not only improve animal survival, but also reduce production costs and increase profits, and so enhance the productivity of the poor’s only productive asset and help eradicate poverty. As the world’s poorest people are the most vulnerable to disasters, it is also vital to integrate animal welfare into disaster resilience and emergency planning. This can help prevention of the unnecessary suffering of livestock and people and significantly enhance post-disaster recovery.

Animal well-being impacts on the most pressing issues of our time. In just one key example, livestock is crucial to food security. Unfortunately, our collective response to the growing demand for animal protein has been the expansion of low-welfare intensive livestock production and farming practices.

Choosing this unsustainable path has led to a number of unintended consequences affecting:

• global food security, as grains are diverted from people to livestock

• greenhouse gas emissions, as forests and pastures are replaced by arable land for livestock feed production

• the occurrence and global costs of zoonotic diseases, such as Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter and avian and swine flu

• biodiversity, as natural ecosystems and native animal habitats are destroyed and what remains is overexploited.

Making animal welfare a standard element for consideration in development areas such as disaster preparedness, wildlife protection, marine and dog management, and sustainable agriculture – for example by promoting sustainable livestock production that comprises animal welfare principles – represents an alternate and proven approach to achieving the Future We Want: one with food security, social stability, environmental sustainability and equitable economic growth.

The devastating impact of climate change affects people and animals. Ocean acidification affects fish stock density; changing rainfall and temperature patterns reduce the productivity of livestock and consequently the food security, livelihoods and disaster resilience of communities that depend on them. With nearly a fifth of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emanating from livestock, farming models that integrate animal welfare, by focusing on the health and management of animals, and efforts to change human production/consumption patterns (quantity and type of food), will significantly reduce emissions.

Climate change will have far-reaching consequences for dairy and meat production, especially in vulnerable parts of the world where it is vital for nutrition and livelihoods. It leads to the degradation of crop and pasture lands, heightens the vulnerability of livestock systems and exacerbates existing stresses upon them. Good animal welfare is of paramount importance in addressing these challenges. For instance, breeds suited to the local environment are often more robust and resilient than breeds selected to maximise production alone.

The consequences of climate change increase the risk of natural disasters occurring and magnify their impacts. As most of the world’s poor people rely heavily on livestock and working animals for food security and livelihoods, protecting animals from the effects of climate change and associated natural disasters must be an integral part of any effective disaster response. Integrating animal welfare into disaster risk reduction, resilience and preparedness planning will significantly reduce suffering, facilitate and accelerate recovery and limit post-disaster aid dependency.

Less intensive farming, with higher potential for good welfare, often has a smaller environmental footprint. This is partly because high-yield, but health-compromised livestock have been shown to produce higher GHG emissions, and partly because pasture-based systems for cattle can reduce GHG emissions through grassland’s capacity for carbon storage. Also, pasture-based dairy production with dual purpose breeds (milk and beef), can be more carbon efficient, with benefits for both resource input efficiency and animal welfare, a ‘win-win’ scenario6. Moreover, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has found that dairy and meat production in the developing world does not need to become more industrial to become more efficient. For example, improving the feeding (higher quality grasses) and health of cows and sheep (ruminants) can cut emissions per kilogramme of milk or meat in many developing regions by two-thirds. Small farms that mix livestock and crops provide promising opportunities.

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