OIE's New Priorities Include Working Equid Health, Welfare

OIE's New Priorities Include Working Equid Health, Welfare

Improving working equids' health and welfare could help them work longer and better to the benefit of their owners.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

The health and welfare of working equids throughout the world has become one of the “new priorities” for the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), OIE officials said May 24 in Paris, France.

Convening for the organization’s 84th General Assembly, the 840 participants representing many of the 180 OIE member countries are expected to vote this week to adopt the condition of working equids as one of its key focal points for the upcoming year.

“It’s an important subject concerning many countries, as equids are still widely used for work throughout the world, especially traction work,” said Director General Monique Eloit, DVM. “This topic is a new priority for us, and it’s the beginning of a larger project, because it will later be expanded to other species of animals used for labor, such as bovines.”

As a key focal point, the topic will become one of the 49 “chapters” presented for vote during the six-day meeting. It results from two years of planning and development with member countries, according to Deputy Director General Brian Evans, DVM.

“The chapter was circulated to the countries four times over the last two years, which is our normal cycle,” he told The Horse. “The proposal has been well received in these countries over the past two years and addresses their concerns appropriately. We’re bringing it forward this because, based on member comments that we’ve received, we feel there’s a strong international consensus.”

That international consensus comes from veterinarians, politicians, or nongovernment organizations throughout the world that have detected common problems with working equids in their nations. “They’ve noted that it’s not only the animals intended for consumption that are experiencing welfare issues, but animals used for work as well—in particular horses, donkeys, and mules,” said Etienne Bonbon, DVM, president of the OIE’s Code Commission, which oversees the adoption of proposed chapters.

Those welfare issues are broad but similar among nations, he added. “It’s about how they’re being worked despite poor health, or being worked too long or in too difficult conditions,” he said. “Not enough water, not enough food, too old, too young, too far along in gestation. Or their loads are too heavy, or their harnessing is inappropriate or poorly fitted and causes injury, or weather conditions are too extreme—too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry.

“We also want to make sure that they have adequate housing and management,” Bonbon continued. “After a day’s work, can they come home to a shelter where they can eat, drink, rest, and be protected from elements and insects? Are they being cared for when they’re ill or injured? Are their feet being cared for? These are all basic welfare concerns that we need to see addressed in working equids throughout the world.”

Improving working equid welfare will require certain “pedagogical efforts” directly for owners, Eloit said. However, such training programs are likely to be well-received, as working equid welfare is easy to present as a win-win situation.

“Improving the welfare of these animals can only be positive for the owner and the owner’s family,” she said. “The equids will feel better, stronger, and healthier, which could help them work longer and better and be, in the end, more profitable in their work.”

The vote is expected to pass by the end of the week, OIE officials said.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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