Speech by the Hon. Noel Holder in the National Assembly on the “Animal Welfare Bill” – February 9, 2017
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, I am very pleased to be here to address the current animal welfare systems in Guyana, through the introduction of an Animal Welfare Act.
I should say at the outset that animal welfare is an issue of very high importance, since the (global) consumption of animal protein is increasing rapidly.
Welfare encompasses both physical and psychological well-being, therefore a multi-pronged approach is proposed through this bill. Animal welfare incorporates all aspects of an animal’s well-being, including housing, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, transport, and humane slaughter, be it livestock or companion animals.
This Animal Welfare Bill was drafted in 2011 to fulfil Guyana’s readiness to access the export market for non-traditional agricultural Products, which was driven by the Agricultural Export Diversification Project (ADP), an IDB funded project, under the previous administration. It was discussed in Cabinet in 2014 but was never placed before this house. The Animal Welfare Bill was seen as a compliment to the Food Safety Bill and a means in its own right to raise Guyana’s status as a food producing country in the international market place. This Bill has gone through numerous consultation processes and has even been an inspiration to other CARICOM countries, who have copied it. The Guyana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA) has given their stamp of approval to this Bill by having an expert on Animal Welfare review it on their behalf. This Bill is a prerequisite for compliance to allow for export of animals and meat to some countries especially the EU.
Animal welfare is directly linked to food and nutrition security. Better management of, and care for, livestock can improve productivity and meat quality – it ensures food safety, nutritional adequacy and food availability. For the prevention of animal diseases, the entire food chain is important. From farm to fork! Accordingly it is seen as a prerequisite to satisfy international markets and meeting consumer’s expectations.
Humane, sustainable, development is critical in adopting ‘better’ production systems and practices, particularly as we seek to build export markets for livestock products. The future of animal production is headed towards prioritization of environmental and animal welfare matters related to the exploitation of the different animal species. Through modernization of our production systems with sustainable Welfare and Environmental practices, we can achieve the impacts on growth, meat quality and profitability, thereby enhancing our export possibilities.
Mr. Speaker, the production of safe food is a matter of shared responsibilities between all actors involved. Understanding of each other’s responsibilities with effective control, monitoring and legislation, provides the guarantee required through the Guyana Livestock Development Authority.
Mr. Speaker, animal welfare is important for health, commercial and ethical reasons. For instance, one of the issues on our current health agenda is Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR); that is, the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, viruses, and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarial drugs) from working against it. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.
And it all begins with the use of antibiotics in livestock farming. Therefore, food safety, animal health and human health are connected. This is the “One Health” Approach. But how does it all begin? Farmers have been using antibiotics as an accepted tool in the curation and prevention of animal diseases for many years. Since antibiotics was the cheap, short term answer to animal disease risks. Over time, the application of vast quantities of antibiotics, in place of a structural improvement of production factors, has resulted in the risks spilling over from the field of animal health to affect human health. Therefore, from the perspective of sustainability, solutions for human health concerns, a healthy environment for livestock should emphasize animal husbandry and management tools that will optimize animal health and minimize the need for antibiotics.
Poor management practices, including poor housing, overcrowding and poor nutrition create stress on the animals which causes diseases to become manifest, thus requiring treatment with antibiotics and an increased likelihood of Antimicrobial Resistance presenting itself. With proper implementation and monitoring of the provisions of this bill, we can expect a reduction in the use of antimicrobials in the livestock and poultry production sectors.
For that reason, food safety and animal welfare issues like antimicrobial resistance in bacterial infections are to be taken seriously in the veterinary domain lest it advances into the public health arena.
Animal welfare is not a new subject for legislation. Currently there is the Animal Health Act that enlists measures to control the spread of animal borne diseases and pathogens. And cap 8:02 of the laws of Guyana contains penalties regarding the poisoning of fishes and maiming, injuring, or killing of any terrestrial animal or bird. However, due to greater exposure to animal welfare issues, sophisticated consumer demands, and growing interest in animal welfare in international trade – in particular in the European Union – there is need for an update.
Improving welfare will improve productivity and benefit home consumption and exports. Consumers in developed countries like those in Europe favour organic food and methods of production that benefit animal welfare such as free range production systems. In Guyana, we can have a competitive advantage in agricultural trade targeting the high value organic market in Europe, since we have cheaper labour and an extensive land area. More so, we can enter into these markets with little to no change in our agricultural production systems, because many aspects of the treatment of animals – such as adequate spacing– are already practiced in Guyana. As such, this bill intends to reform Guyana’s animal welfare in a way that is synonymous with the EU standards so as to promote trade.
As we strive to expand our livestock sector, we need to view animal welfare in a holistic way; balancing the intensification of animal production with the welfare of animals. Through this bill, the following are directly applicable to operators in the sector:-
- New requirements for safely in transporting healthy animals.
- When using animals for transport, necessary steps will have to be taken to consider the health and safety of the animals.
- Protection of Animals through adequate veterinary care, feed and water, housing and space according to species requirements must be provided, and ways should be devised, by the owner, to ensure minimal effort is required by the animal.
- Persons intending to keep animals for production purposes will have to register with the relevant authorities.
- Persons intending to keep animals for production purposes should take into consideration their physiological behaviour.
- Requirements for appropriate and sturdy housing for animals used for production purposes, to be kept safe from adverse weather conditions and where the construction materials used are not harmful to them in any way.
- Updated standards, the bill introduces many technical changes. For example, the time of slaughter, and care in transporting animals to be slaughtered, among others.
- The regulations that will follow concern the treatment of different species of animals. Different treatment, care and housing have to be meted out to horses, cows (both beef and dairy), pigs, sheep, goats and poultry.
This bill gives consideration to the protection of companion/domestic animals in Guyana. The bill includes several requirements that ensure the protection and wellbeing of domestic animals, especially with regards to their shelter, food supply and humane treatment. Pet shops and animal Shelters will be regulated to ensure the safety of abandoned or lost animals, whilst providing them with temporary shelter and food until an owner is found. Therefore, the constructions of more animal shelters and Animal Pounds will also be effective in reducing the number of stray animals roaming the streets. Stray animals pose an enormous public health risk for the spread of diseases. Guyana has to be cognisant of the increase in new and emergent diseases such as Rabies in our neighbouring countries, and the threat they pose to Public Health and safety. The reduction in the number of strays will lead to a reduction in the number of animal related road fatalities as well as the number of dead animals lying on the roads and improve safety and promote a cleaner and healthier environment.
Mr. Speaker, this bill seeks to reform the way animal welfare is approached in Guyana. It presents more contemporary regulations that should be followed in order to improve animal health and safety. In order to see that the provisions of this bill are carried out and to propose ways in which the bill may be improved, an Animal Welfare Commission will be formed. Which will see the integration of relevant experts from the disciplines of veterinary and human medicine. The comission will be responsible for achieving a comprehensive and effective animal welfare policy, dealing with matters concering animal safety and will also serve as an advisory body to the Minister on any matters of importance. In the interim, the Animal Welfare Unit of the Guyana Livestock Development Authority will oversee the operationalization of this Bill. Lastly, any infringements of this bill will be rewarded with relevant penalties.
The Ministry, through the Guyana Livestock Development Authority, has and will devote much attention and energy to the complex issue of animal welfare. I am grateful for the support thus far which has certainly contributed to the progress we have made, and I hope very much that our constructive dialogue will continue into the future.
Mr. Speaker, the Government fully supports the introduction of this Bill.
I commend this Bill to Parliament for due consideration.