Pei Zhang is the Poultry Program Director of the International Cooperation Committee of Animal Welfare (ICCAW). She spoke with ACE intern Echo Sun in March 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
Around the time of the Beijing Olympics, foreigners were criticizing China for failing to offer meat products that met animal welfare standards. The president of the International Cooperation Committee of Animal Welfare (ICCAW) observed this gap in farmed animal welfare regulation in China and thought that China needed an organization working on farmed animal welfare.
In China, an association like ICCAW needs permission to operate. For this reason, it was registered as a branch of the China Association for the Promotion of International Agricultural Cooperation (CAPIAC) in 2013. ICCAW is also overseen by the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Agriculture. While these ministries do not directly regulate ICCAW’s work every year, ICCAW reports their own activities to them.
ICCAW aims to promote animal welfare in China by implementing efficient and welfare-friendly farming systems to improve the quality and safety of animal products. They only address farmed animal welfare because wild, captive, and other animals fall within the realm of “animal rights,” which is seen as more radical by the government. As such, ICCAW approaches welfare in a way that is more culturally appropriate by working on improving welfare within industrialized animal agriculture. Their welfare improvement programs also aim to improve food safety.
Influencing changes within the industry
Welfare can be used as a brand-building and marketing tool; companies get a higher price margin by distinguishing their products as higher-welfare. Consumers want healthy, safe, and high-quality meat. Production costs will certainly rise, but better management and lower demand for antibiotics can decrease costs in the long run.
To incentivize corporations, ICCAW had Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) introduce global-level rewards. Through these rewards, they make welfare standards better known and available to companies. Many large businesses reach out to them to inquire about how to get those awards and gain a competitive edge.
Zhang is currently reviewing the application materials submitted for the Good Egg and Good Chicken Awards. She will get back to applicants in April, do a re-examination, and then submit finalists to CIWF.
The Chinese Government’s Attitude Towards Animal Welfare
Pei states that progress has been made. The government does not necessarily support their work, but the concept of animal welfare has gained official recognition. Last year, in 2017, ICCAW held a World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare in Hangzhou in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). They did not expect this conference to have such an impact. Prior to the conference, the Ministry of Agriculture never broached the subject of animal welfare, due to animal welfare’s close association with animal rights—and allusions to controversies surrounding human welfare and human rights. They arranged a meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture in which Deputy Minister Yu spoke about farm animal welfare. It was the first time the government officially acknowledged this concept and brought it into public discourse. This does not indicate full support, but at least the government is taking a public stance and endorsing welfare improvements.
ICCAW’s Collaboration with Other Groups
They also collaborate with the Inner Mongolia Academy of Agriculture & Animal Husbandry on a project focusing on sheep and cow welfare. Grazing is largely prohibited now, so ICCAW wants to reduce tie-stall cattle raising in which animals cannot even bend their knees. The Academy of Agricultural Sciences also works to improve the welfare of animals who are confined in pens. They give advice and have taken on two research projects funded by the government. Recently they have also applied for two state-funded research projects—one on aquatic animal welfare, and one on cattle welfare in Inner Mongolia.
ICCAW is also formulating agricultural sector standards1 for the government, which have already been submitted for approval. They will become the official welfare standards of the Ministry of Agriculture. It’s ICCAW’s view that these new standards will have a greater impact than the old association standards, even though they will be recommended and not mandatory.
As an International Cooperation Committee, ICCAW has connections with international research institutions and universities. They translated the University of Queensland’s slaughtering and transportation standards guidelines (and other similar guidelines) and they organize conferences.
ICCAW collaborates with CIWF to incentivize welfare improvement with CIWF’s welfare standard awards program. They had to modify CIWF’s message, however, because it encourages reducing the number of farmed animals, and eating smaller amounts of high-quality meat produced under higher welfare standards (e.g., free range meat). This type of model works in Europe, but not in the U.S. or in China—where intensified industrial animal farming is necessary to meet high meat demand.
A Pragmatic Approach
Despite their strategic framing, ICCAW does not encourage the industrialization of farming—and they have achieved a tangible impact in reducing animal suffering through offering suggestions to companies that use intensive farming methods. Companies that express interest can choose to work with ICCAW to meet the suggested standards, and these companies are usually large-scale and standardized—making it possible for them to respond to welfare advocacy. Larger animal producers have their staff travel to Europe to attend trainings and conferences, where they develop their understanding of animal welfare concepts. ICCAW doesn’t suggest that small companies intensify or industrialize their agricultural methods.
Chuying Agro-Pastoral, a publicly listed agricultural company, improves their welfare practices each year and has achieved a four-star award through CIWF’s welfare standards award program. Muyuan Foods, another large publicly traded company, also received the same award. They started to formulate their own welfare standards within the factory, which Zhang views as a promising achievement.
Since ICCAW only has eleven full-time staff members, the lack of human resources and the difficulty of scaling up are the main challenges. Everyone at the organization multitasks. Zhang manages the fowl project along with some outreach work, and she also follows up on ICCAW’s collaboration with the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) Animal Welfare Standards. One colleague works on cattle, another on pigs, and they each have a research project. There is no one specializing in welfare work.
None of the ICCAW staff are vegetarian or animal activists. The three program managers—including Zhang—are all from relevant academic backgrounds. All three studied zoology as undergraduates and then animal nutrition and feeding in graduate school. The international program manager studied creative writing at a prestigious foreign university. The publicity and communication manager has many years of experience with communication and media in the agricultural sector. The secretary worked in the industry for over a decade and has networks and resources. The president and the director who founded ICCAW both came from a legal background. Zhang states that the employees at ICCAW have stronger professional skills than personal faith. She thinks that everyone at ICCAW cares about the animals they’re advocating for, especially given the fact that they don’t earn a substantial income working for a nonprofit. Nonetheless, they take a neutral stance instead of a radical one.