Due to the large number of pigs and poultry in the country, improvements made to livestock farming have the potential to make a significant impact on animals, both now and in the future according to the RSPCA.
Over two years, the RSPCA will receive US$450,000 (£359,000) which will allow it to use its farm animal welfare standards and high-welfare labelling scheme as a model for a similar assurance and food labelling programme in China. The funding will give the RSPCA the freedom to work closely with the official International Co-operation Committee of Animal Welfare - an institution that brings together Chinese stakeholders in the livestock farming and food retail sectors.
"This grant is a major step forward in our efforts to improve farm animal welfare in China," said Paul Littlefair, RSPCA head of international. "There is a real and growing appetite, both at government level and among the public, for ethically produced food and reliable food labelling. The scale of farming in China means there is an opportunity to make an extremely broad and lasting impact on animal welfare."
In 2005, the RSPCA co-hosted China's first-ever conference on farm animal welfare in response to the country's concerns about food safety, with a focus on the poor treatment of animals on farms, during transport and at slaughter and its effect on the safety and quality of meat products. The charity has taken welfare scientists to Beijing in the years since then to share experiences and findings.
Over the years, interest in the importance of animal welfare among China's scientific community has risen steadily. Every March, 3,000 delegates travel to the National People's Congress in Beijing to discuss issues confronting the country's society and economy.
At this year's conference, scientist and congress delegate Zhao Wanping called on China to legislate for stronger welfare measures for farm animals. He said that securing welfare in Chinese livestock production would be a step-by-step process of gradual improvements, driven by consumer awareness and demand for "safer, greener and healthier" food.
In May last year, China's health ministry issued dietary guidelines recommending a more moderate intake of meat with the aim of improving public health.
"It appears that China is moving in a similar direction to Europe, with a focus on encouraging citizens to eat modest amounts of meat, but to choose carefully, considering the impact of their eating habits particularly on the environment and animal welfare," added Littlefair. "A higher welfare assurance scheme will enable Chinese consumers for the first time to think about the wellbeing of farm animals in their purchasing choices."