The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will continue cooperating with China on farm animal welfare to help improve animal health and food safety, the organization's China representative said.
China has made quick progress in farm animal welfare, although it is taking time for full public recognition of the issue, said Vincent Martin, the UN's FAO representative for China and the DPRK.
"We want to support China in this endeavor. ... We are now promoting awareness of farm animal welfare," he said. "We have a lot of projects with the Chinese government in many different areas, but we have never conducted any joint technical pilot project to promote farm animal welfare."
He added that farm animal welfare is crucial to food safety.
"There is a strong link between animal welfare and food safety," he said. "If you improve animal welfare, their immunity to diseases will be improved, and you can use less antibiotics. If the animals are happier, fit and living in better conditions, the meat is healthier."
Xi Chunling, vice-president of the China Association for the Promotion of International Agricultural Cooperation, which hosted the second World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare with the FAO in Beijing last month, said China has promoted raising farm animals, such as pigs, cattle and chicken, in a healthier and more environmentally friendly way, and in certain areas it has been on par with some developed countries in ensuring welfare for farm animals.
"For example, animal welfare is ensured in most slaughterhouses in China, where pain-free means of slaughtering, such as using carbon dioxide, have been commonly adopted," she said, adding that welfare practices need to improve in some other parts of the animal industry, such as transport.
"Promoting welfare in raising, transporting and slaughtering farm animals not only benefit animals, it can help ensure the safety and quality of meat products at the source," she said.
For example, animals living in lower-density groups are less susceptible to diseases, such as African swine fever, which has broken out in China recently. It can also mean less use of antibiotics, she said, and meat from animals slaughtered in a more humane way has proved to be healthier and tastier.
Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming, an organization based in the United Kingdom that promotes farm animal welfare, said China has made a lot of progress in promoting animal welfare over the past 15 years.
"Fifteen years ago, I think there was very little recognition of animal welfare or the importance of animal welfare in China," he said. "China has progressed so fast in that recognition. And from what we've seen, the government and the animal farming industry have been keen to improve. We've seen this particularly in the pig and poultry sectors where there's been a lot of interest in improving animal welfare."
More than 50 pig and poultry companies in China have received special award certificates issued by the organization over the past four years for their good animal welfare practices, Lymbery said.
"This means nearly 2 million pigs and 300 million chickens in China live in better conditions because of the actions and commitment of the companies," he said.
Xi, from the international cooperation group, said compared with some European countries China still needs a sustained effort to improve farm animal welfare.
"But China is a vast country with huge differences between regions, which requires local authorities to set standards and rules that suit their own conditions," she said.
Considering China's huge population, which brings with it a great need of food, China should promote a moderate mode of farm animal welfare to strike a balance between feeding the people and ensuring the rights and interests of animals, she said.
"It is crucial that people's thinking continues to upgrade, along with the upgrading of China's meat industry," she said. "They should realize that taking good care of animals can really bring benefits for production and to the whole industry."