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Open letter: Experts call on governments to include animal welfare in sustainable development governance

Ahead of the UN Stockholm+50 Conference, more than 200 experts call on governments to include animal welfare in sustainable development policy in an effort to advance a more holistic “One Health” approach to environmental protection and public health.

Jeff Sebo, Cleo Verkuijl, Ploy Achakulwisut, Mairon G. Bastos Lima, Jonathan Green / Published on 25 May 2022
Citation

Sebo, J., Verkuijl, C., Hötzel, M. J., Achakulwisut, P., Bastos Lima, M. and Green, J. (2022). Sustainable development matters for animals too. Governments have a responsibility to recognize that. CABI One Health. http://doi.org/10.1079/cabionehealth.2022.0002

More than 200 scientists and other experts are asking governments worldwide to include animal welfare in sustainable development governance now in order to achieve a healthier, more resilient, and more sustainable world for all.

An open letter, published in the new CABI One Health journal ahead of the June 2022 UN Stockholm+50 Conference, 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.”

SEI Research Fellow Cleo Verkuijl served as co-lead author of the letter. It follows the recent launch of a report on policy options for mainstreaming animal welfare in sustainable development governance, led by the same author team.

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 policy. As a stark example, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 169 targets, some of which deal with protecting animal species, biodiversity and habitats, but none that consider animal welfare. According to the authors, this is an important oversight.

“Human, animal and environmental health are linked,” explained the letter’s other lead author, 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. “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 and 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. The current bird flu outbreaks, for instance, have already led to the culling of millions of birds worldwide.

“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,” Verkuijl said.

They signatories 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,” to support just transition policies that support vulnerable populations, 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,” said letter co-author 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.”

Signatories of the commentary include Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University; Martha C. Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, Law School and Philosophy Department, The University of Chicago; Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers, Professor, Environmental Governance and Politics, Radboud University; Linda Keeling, Professor, Animal Welfare, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; Roberto Schaeffer, Professor, Energy Economics, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder; Oluwaseun Iyasere, Senior Lecturer, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Nigeria; Will Kymlicka, Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy, Queen’s University, Canada; Arthur Caplan, Mitty Professor of Bioethics, Grossman School of Medicine, New York University; Jérôme Segal, Associate Professor of History, Sorbonne University; Yixian Sun, Assistant Professor in International Development, University of Bath; and Laura Scherer, Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences, Leiden University.

The full commentary is available here.

The authors welcome additional signatures from researchers and experts at this link.

SEI contributors

Cleo Verkuijl
Cleo Verkuijl

Scientist

SEI US

Ploy Achakulwisut

Research Fellow

SEI US

Mairon G. Bastos Lima
Mairon G. Bastos Lima

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Jonathan Green profile picture
Jonathan Green

Senior Researcher

SEI York

Related

SEI authors

Jeff Sebo

Cleo Verkuijl
Cleo Verkuijl

Scientist

SEI US

Ploy Achakulwisut

Research Fellow

SEI US

Mairon G. Bastos Lima
Mairon G. Bastos Lima

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Jonathan Green profile picture
Jonathan Green

Senior Researcher

SEI York

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