Motion No. 354
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should support the development and adoption of a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare at the United Nations as well as at all relevant international organizations and forums.
Madam Speaker, I am very honoured to rise today to present Motion No. 354.
Before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas who had a similar motion on the order paper. The member graciously agreed to withdraw his motion so I could proceed with the motion we are debating today.
I would also like to thank my caucus colleague, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, for her continued support and counsel. She is extremely passionate about this issue and I am grateful for all of her support.
World Animal Week is set to begin next week, making the debate of this motion extremely timely for Canada to vote to support the development of a universal declaration on animal welfare, or UDAW.
What is the universal declaration on animal welfare? To put it simply, it is an agreement among people and nations to recognize that animals are sentient, suffer, have welfare needs and to ultimately end animal cruelty worldwide.
The UDAW refers to the welfare of sentient animals. Sentience is the capacity to have feelings and to experience suffering and pleasure. It implies a level of conscious awareness. Scientific research indicates that all vertebrates are animals. This is an active research area and knowledge of sentience among species continues to grow.
More than a billion people rely on animals for their livelihoods and even more for job and food security. For many others, animals are companions that enrich their lives. While it has been proven that animals can feel pain and do suffer, global recognition of the significance of animal welfare remains virtually non-existent.
The UDAW will be structured as a set of general principles that acknowledge and emphasize the importance of animal welfare. The purpose of these principles is to encourage all nations to put in place or enhance existing animal welfare laws and standards. The UDAW will not be binding legislation and does not, therefore, attribute legal rights to animals.
A draft text was developed at the Manila Conference on Animal Welfare in March 2003 and at the Costa Rica steering committee meeting in November 2005. This is the basis for work on the drafting of a universal declaration on animal welfare and is in part based on the following:
That animal welfare is an issue worth consideration by governments.
That the promotion of animal welfare requires collective action and all stakeholders and affected parties must be involved.
That work on animal welfare is a continuous process....
RECOGNIZING that animals are living, sentient beings and therefore deserve due consideration and respect;
RECOGNIZING that animal welfare includes animal health [and that veterinarians have an essential role in maintaining both the health and welfare of animals];
RECOGNIZING that humans [inhabit] this planet with other species and other forms of life and that all forms of life co-exist within an interdependent ecosystem;...
ACKNOWLEDGING that the humane use of animals can have major benefits for humans;
This draft text also outlines the principles of the declaration as being:
1. The welfare of animals shall be a common objective for all [states];
2. The standards of animal welfare attained by each [state] shall be promoted, recognized and observed by improved measures, nationally and internationally. [Whilst there are significant social, economic and cultural differences between societies, each should care for and treat animals in a humane and sustainable manner][in accordance with the principles of the Declaration];
3. All appropriate steps shall be taken by [states] to prevent cruelty to animals and to reduce their suffering; 4. Appropriate standards on the welfare of animals be further developed and elaborated such as, but not limited to, those governing the use and management of farm animals, companion animals, animals in scientific research, draught animals, wildlife animals and animals in recreation.
The next phase in securing international recognition of the welfare of animals is for this non-binding agreement to be endorsed at the United Nations. The achievement of this declaration would be a groundbreaking step toward improvements for animals around the world and would act as a catalyst for change for animals in the following areas:
In the area of environmental sustainability, responsible animal management provides a positive impact on land use, climate change, pollution, water supplies, habitat conservation and biodiversity.
In the area of human health, proper animal care reduces the risk of disease transmission to humans and food poisoning. The human-animal bond also has proven therapeutic effects.
In the area of disaster management, animals are critical elements of many people's livelihoods, food security and cultural awareness. It is essential that protection be considered in disaster reduction preparedness and response policies.
In the area of poverty and hunger reduction, caring for animals appropriately improves productivity and helps farmers to provide food for themselves, their families and their communities.
In the area of social development, people's attitudes and behaviour toward animals overlap with their attitudes and behaviour toward each other.
The UDAW is supported by a growing list of government and key ministries from countries around the world including all 27 members of the European Union, as well as New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Fiji, Croatia, Cambodia, Bahrain, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Norway and Thailand.
There is also a great deal of support from the public. More than 50,000 Canadians have signed petitions in support of a UDAW. Many of these petitions have been presented in the House of Commons. The UDAW is actively supported by Canada's foremost animal protection organizations including the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
Some may ask why we need a declaration now. In recent years our understanding of animal sentience has progressed dramatically. As a result, animal welfare has developed into an issue that demands immediate attention. The scientific basis of sentience is directly linked to an ethical concern for animal welfare.
There is currently no acknowledgement by the international community of animal welfare being an issue of importance. Neither the scientific findings regarding sentience nor the links between animal welfare and human development have been recognized.
Positive change for animals will follow recognition of animal welfare. Improving animal welfare will have a positive impact on human welfare. Reducing the pain and suffering that humans can inflict on animals will guide our relationship with them. The UDAW represents a new national beginning for our relationship with animals.
The achievement of the declaration is an important step and will act as a catalyst for change in the following ways: by raising the status of animal welfare as an international issue; by encouraging all governments to establish or improve national animal welfare legislation and its implementation; by encouraging those industries which utilize animals to keep their welfare at the forefront of their policies and practices; and finally, by inspiring positive change in public attitudes and actions toward animals.
It is important to emphasize two points. First, the UDAW has yet to be finalized and is only in a draft form. The purpose of this motion is to urge the government to involve itself in the continued development of the text and to support it. Second, the UDAW is a non-binding resolution. Its purpose is to persuade other nations without animal protection legislation to put some in place.
The development of and support for a universal declaration on animal welfare does have an obvious relationship to the cruelty to animals legislation, but will not have a cause and effect relationship. As I mentioned before, the UDAW is a non-binding resolution. The passage of UDAW would not force any changes to our animal welfare laws that we do not as a nation choose to enact ourselves.
As for countries such as ours which have animal welfare legislation, it would provide an excellent opportunity to review current legislation to identify areas of improvement. We know that an update of our animal welfare laws is long overdue, although some work has already taken place.
A great deal of legislation has been introduced and debated in this House over the past number of years. Sadly, of all that legislation introduced, only Bill S-203 was successful in becoming law. While critics say that bill does not go far enough, which is something I concur with, I do think it is a small step in a positive direction.
It is my hope that this motion can be another step to influence not only Canada but the international community as well.
A universal declaration on animal welfare is not a conclusion; it is a beginning. It is a signal that, as a global community, we recognize the importance of animals in our lives and the positive impact they have on our way of life. It is a demonstration of our understanding that treating animals humanely is a benefit to our entire society. Supporting a UDAW is a simple, moral and principled action Canada could take with ease.
I strenuously urge all members to support Motion No. M-354.