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Animal Welfare in Developing Countries

Nigel Brown, DV Glen Innes

Posted Flock & Herd April 2017


This presentation is based on my own experiences having worked as a veterinarian in about 36 different countries after qualifying in UK back in 1975. Mostly these are in the Middle East and North Africa (since 1978) but I have recently worked in Mongolia for five years. It is perhaps pertinent to state that I am a member of the Animal Welfare Chapter of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists, applying to join while I was MLA Livestock Services Manager for Middle East and Africa working to support live exports into the region.

While the title of this presentation might seem to cover countries otherwise called 'Third World', it is worth noting that all countries, including Australia, UK and France, should be described as 'developing' when it comes to animal welfare. In fact, I would go so far as to say that those three countries have undergone greater development of their attitudes to animal welfare since 1975 than most of the others where more traditional perspectives still prevail. As a result, I shall be talking about the comparative changes over time and across cultures.


We are all aware of the Five Freedoms of animal welfare from the Brambell Report (HMSO 1965) -

Freedom from Hunger and Thirst / Pain, Injury and Disease / Physical and Thermal Discomfort / Fear and Distress and the freedom to Express Normal Behaviour.

However, these are still not universally known, accepted or adopted around the world.

More widely, there seem to be several influences on an individual's attitudes to animal welfare. These may be considered mainly -

For practical assessment purposes, animal welfare concerns may be sub-divided into three major categories-

Within those individuals who have developed strong philosophical attitudes towards animal welfare, there is also a more extreme perspective which refers to 'Animal Rights'. However, this aspect appears to be almost entirely a feature of societies where they have been extrapolated from 'human rights' because there is some traction in this aspect of the human-animal relationship.


Many developing countries have extreme geography and climate which preclude total freedom in every aspect. Much of my experience has been with low rainfall, extreme temperatures and remote terrain (Middle East and Mongolia) which are on the limits of normal survival for man and domestic animals. The agricultural systems which have developed in these harsh environments are often primitive, achieving survival rather than production, but have been continuous from the earliest days of animal domestication and the earliest agricultural civilisations. Historically we believe that the environment was much more favourable in those days; examples including Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent (modern day Iraq and Syria), Arabia Felix (Yemen and Oman), Mongolia (heartland of the largest ever land empire) and Abyssinia (Ethiopia - the food-bowl of Africa).


Cultures would appear to develop as a response to human existence in particular environments. Attitudes towards animals varies within different cultures from traditional values, as exemplified by numerous cultural traits - China traditionally eat dogs (one breed kept specifically for food (Chow-chow) is known in the 'west' by that name - Chow-chow); horse meat is traditionally eaten in France and Belgium but not UK; monkeys and apes are traditionally eaten in West Africa; Arabs eat locusts, reptiles and other desert creatures (various Arab tribes use the derogatory term 'lizard-eater' to refer to others). The reverence of Mongols for their horse reflects the total reliance that tribes of the Mongol federation have placed on the animals since their early domestication probably 8,000 years ago.

Such attitudes have evolved over many generations as a result of availability and needs - for instance, the Yemeni recipe for locusts developed as a result of the relatively frequent locust swarms affecting the Tihama desert. However, the different attitudes towards eating horse either side of the English Channel (22 miles wide) potentially arise because of moral attitudes which are influenced by religious and other cultural mores.

Lifestyles vary so incredibly among the poorer nations that they bear little relationship to those in 'advanced western countries'. Home slaughter is the norm for the vast number of rural households and many urban dwellers still prefer traditional wet-meat so they can watch the animals being slaughtered and discuss its merits with slaughtermen and other watchers. Unusual habits persist when different coloured animals are preferred because of perceived superiority of taste. While dogs are kept in some civilisations as guard dogs and thus live outside to protect premises or livestock, they are considered unclean by Muslims and thus treated unfavourably except Saluki which is considered a different type of animal and highly favoured.

In western societies, attitudes to animals have altered far more rapidly in the last fifty years for assorted reasons. Examples could be the changing attitudes to dogs where in the 1940s and '50s Britain, pet dogs habitually lived in outdoor; for many years now dogs have lived inside, even slept in the same bed as their owners. As a young boy growing up on a farm, our first dog lived outside in a kennel, the second (and subsequent) slept in the kitchen. Since qualifying, I have had numerous queries about the risk of contracting diseases from the tongues of dogs which slept in owners' beds - a different interpretation of the term 'lap-dog'.

Michael Moore (2001) cited public response to his 1989 film Roger & Me. In this film, set in USA and depicting the effects on an industrial town when the big industry relocates its factory overseas, a black man wearing a Superman cape and carrying a plastic gun is shot by police. In a scene two minutes earlier a white woman on Social Security clubs a bunny rabbit to death so that she can sell him as “meat” rather than as a pet which she had done during happier times. According to Moore, he has not received a single complaint against the death of the black man but large numbers of adverse reactions to the incident with “that poor little cute bunny bonked on the head” - “horrified”, “shocked” “physically sick”, “had to turn away” or “leave the theatre”. Teachers wrote to him saying they had to edit out the incident of the rabbit so they can show the film to their students - but not the incident involving the black man!

In 1979 when I first arrived in rural Yemen, life was hard and animals suffered hardship along with their owners. Human homes were generally round shacks of open-wove wooden struts with a thatched roof surmounted by a strange object to ward off the evil-eye. Livestock lived under shacks of open-wove struts with a thatched roof surmounted by a strange object to ward off the evil-eye!! Cattle, camels, donkeys and wives were used to pull the plough the soil at the start of the rainy season partly because foot-and-mouth disease was a regular spring occurrence (making animals weak and lame) and Rinderpest came through in 1980 and wiped out large numbers of cattle. There was no veterinary service except the British Veterinary Services project and knowledge of disease was medieval with diseases caused by the will of God (Allah).


In the broadest sense, animal welfare reflects the traditional attitudes of that culture which, themselves, have evolved from the prevailing religion of the society - or did the religion develop as a result of the culture?

Fundamental Judaism takes its influence from the Torah (first five books of the larger Tanakh or Hebrew Bible - 24 books) and adheres strictly to its dictates and the Mosaic laws it contains. Less fundamental sects are more interpretative of the written and spoken words that have come down through history.

Christianity, as we understand it in the west, has generally become far more interpretive over time although some sects and the Coptic churches remain far more adherent to original dictates. The Holy Bible contains both Old Testaments with multiple authors and the same influences as Judaism plus the New Testament with its Gospels and Books written after the Crucifixion by disciples interpreting the words and actions of Jesus. Interestingly, the biblical Jesus Christ would have grown up under Jewish influence - as a Jew. Over the last two thousand years, many theologians have contributed to discussions on many different aspects of Christianity - encompassing such diverse aspects as virgin birth, the resurrection, whether animals have a soul and the relationship between man and the plants and animals of God's creation. These have led to different interpretations over time, Thomas Aquinas being particularly notable in this area, but with the overriding precept being that man has dominion over animals. However, some argue that historical interpretations of Christian doctrine have contributed to protracted animal welfare problems.

Within Islam, Muslims follow the dictates of Qur'an, which believers take as the word of God as spoken to Mohammed, his messenger. These words were written down on assorted parchments, animal bones and so forth by those who heard Mohammed repeat his messages. True believers take this compilation as immutable (and only truly understood in the Arabic in which it was written although translations or / interpretations do exist) although there are large numbers of Muslims who are more interpretative. There are many 'hadith' which are important reported sayings of the prophet Mohammed. Unfortunately there are very few statements from Mohammed about animal welfare. (Masri, 1989). Despite the apparent broad strokes of religious coverage, there appear to be many areas where the local influences supersede religious doctrine.

Buddhist philosophies generally tend to promote life and thus are against animal killing including that for food. Mongolian Buddhism, however, developed in a climate where temperature precludes much horticulture or living from wild plants. It fully accepts livestock slaughter and meat consumption but blends it with a reverence for the life taken and a determination not to waste any of the animal.

Animism beliefs identify the spirits of people with those of animals, they surmise that we are all part of the one energy pool and that this energy recirculates with reincarnation in such a way that animal spirits watch over humans.


Across the Middle East there was not a single Arab country with any animal welfare legislation in 2010 (and I don't think this has changed since then). Israel does have legislation. Mongolia has legislation which refers to animal welfare during slaughter, however, during my time there actively visiting slaughterhouses, it was apparent that this was routinely ignored for various reasons.

One important aspect of globalisation is that husbandry and techniques are moving around the world and being adopted by countries without the underpinning expertise. By training and experience in agriculture. The Middle East is classic in adopting high-cost technologies and employing poorly paid workers from other third world countries to run them since working with animals is widely seen as inferior work. Livestock feedlots, slaughterhouses and transport are all poorly managed enterprises which can lead to welfare challenges.


OIE codes are recommendations and not compulsory. The application of laws and codes will be considered in more detail in the presentation.

Since the OIE introduced its animal welfare code regretfully it has some major weaknesses which remain unaltered. For example, it condemns the use of noise to control livestock (thereby totally damning the use of stockwhips) yet fails to mention traditional Mongolian slaughter which is probably the most humane method I have ever practised (the aorta is separated from the heart by hand through the diaphragm and a midline abdominal approach)


The delivered presentation will focus on specific examples, illustrated with pictures, to reflect the broad brush strokes of this overview. It will identify the author's belief that animal welfare should not be treated as a moral superiority with which to brow-beat developing countries. Rather it should be considered vital weaknesses in third world agriculture that could be rectified by assistance to increase livestock productivity and performance. However, it has to be clearly understood that, while gross inequality between human groups remains, activities designed to improve the lot of animals will prove largely unsuccessful. Current trends of using third world nationals to train third world nationals is fraught with problems when many local experts have no experience in the more advanced technology, knowledge and skills elsewhere in the world.


  1. Hadith (The recorded words and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed) are cited solely with the name of the book,e.g. Abu Waqidal-Laithi, Ahmad, al-Nasai, Awn or Bukhari
  2. HMSO (1965) The Brambell Report: Report on the technical committee to enquire into the welfare of animals kept under intensive husbandry systems. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, UK
  3. Qur'an. The Meaning of The Holy Qur'an. Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali, (1992), Amana Corporation, Brentwood, Maryland, USA. ISBN 0-915957-11-6. (Note: Muslims believe that the true meaning of God's Word can only be understood in the original Arabic)
  4. Masri, B.A. (1989). Animals in Islam. Athene Trust. Petersfield, UK. ISBN 1 870603 01 X. Pakistan
  5. Moore, M. (2001). Stupid White Men. pp59,60. Harper Collins Publishers New York, USA. ISBN 0-06-053090-1


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