Professor Schaffner Shepherds Effort Calling for an International Animal Welfare Treaty

Joan E. Schaffner
February 26, 2021

Joan E. Schaffner, Associate Professor of Law and co-chair of the ABA’s International Animal Law Committee, led the group that worked on a resolution adopted by the ABA House of Delegates on February 22. The resolution calls for the U.S. Department of State to lead the negotiation of an international convention for the protection of animals to protect public health, the environment, and animal well-being.

“Our planet is a shared space and our failure to ensure proper respect for the interconnectedness of human and animal life has had devastating consequences which have affected all of us,” said Professor Schaffner. “An animal welfare treaty is a unique opportunity to ensure minimum standards of conduct toward non-human animals that will have benefits not only for the welfare of the animals themselves but for public health and the environment. It is well overdue, and I urge the State Department to take up this challenge.”

The report supporting the resolution, which was also prepared by the group led by Professor Schaffner, highlights how the risk of diseases spilling over to humans from animals (zoonotic diseases) is directly related to human mistreatment of animals, including through the wildlife trade and destruction of natural habitats from human activity and climate change.

COVID-19 is one such spillover event, but the list includes other deadly viruses such as AIDS, SARS, Nipah Virus, and Ebola. While this interconnection between public health, the environment, and animal welfare is recognized by the concept of One Health embraced by the United Nations and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no international treaty by which nation states have agreed to minimal standards of animal welfare.