The Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare

Everything You Need to Know

Dog at the other side of fence
Photography taken by Mario Gutiérrez. / Getty Images

The Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare, or UDAW, intends to improve animal welfare internationally. The writers of UDAW hope that the United Nations will adopt the declaration, which states that animal welfare is important and should be respected. They hope that by doing so, the United Nations will inspire countries around the world to do what they can to improve how animals are treated.

A nonprofit animal welfare group called World Animal Protection, or WAP, wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare in 2000. WAP is hoping to present the document to the United Nations by 2020, or sooner if they feel they have enough pre-emptive support from signing nations. If enacted, countries would agree to consider animal welfare in their policy-making and to make an effort to improve the state of animal care in their countries. 

What's the point of a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare? 

"[WAP] had this idea that we should be pushing for declaration in the same sense of what you have for a declaration of human rights, the declaration of child protection issues, [declarations with] that type of ambitious view," said Ricardo Fajardo, head of external affairs at WAP. "There isn't, as we stand today, an international instrument for animal protection, so that's exactly what we wanted with the UDAW." 

Much like other United Nations resolutions, the UDAW is a nonbinding, generically-worded set of values that signatories can adopt. Nations that sign the Paris Agreement to do what they can to protect the environment, and nations that sign the Conventions on the Rights of the Child agree to try to protect children. In the same way, signatories of UDAW agree to do what they can to protect animal welfare in their respective countries. 

What do the countries who sign it have to do? 

The agreement is non-binding and doesn't contain any specific directions. UDAW doesn't officially condemn or condone any particular industry or practices but asks signing nations to implement policies that they feel are in accordance with the agreement. 

What does the declaration state? 

You can read the text of the declaration here.

There are seven articles to the resolution, which state, in short:

  1. Animals are sentient and their welfare should be respected.
  2. Animal welfare includes physical and psychological health. 
  3. Sentience should be understood as the capacity to feel enjoyment and suffering, and all vertebrates have sentience. 
  4. Member states should take all appropriate steps to reduce animal cruelty and suffering. 
  5. Member states should develop and expand policies, standards, and legislation regarding the treatment of all animals.
  6. Those policies should evolve as practices for improved animal welfare techniques are developed. 
  7. Member states should adopt all necessary measures to implement these principles, including the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) standards of Animal Welfare.

When will it take effect? 

The process of getting the United Nations to agree to a declaration can take decades. WAP first drafted the UDAW in 2001, and they hope to present the declaration to the UN around 2020, depending on how quickly they can drum up support in advance. So far, 46 governments support UDAW. 

Why would the UN care about animal welfare? 

The United Nations officially adopted the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals, which call for a variety of global improvements, including human and environmental health. WAP believes that, in addition to making the world a better place for animals, improving animal welfare has a direct effect on the other UN goals. For example, taking better care of animal health means fewer diseases going from animals to humans, and improving environmental spaces, in turn, helps wildlife. 

"And the way that the United Nations understands sustainability, human health, and feeding the world," says Fajardo, "has a lot to do with an environment where animals are protected."