A Push for Animal Welfare

The EU will see a series of new legislative proposals and other policy initiatives on animal welfare over the next four years. This will include studies, to be launched next year, on the welfare of farmed fish and the provision of information to consumers.

The European Commission also plans to introduce implementing rules and guidelines on the protection of animals during transport and at the time of killing, as wells as implementing plans for the slaughter regulation and the grouping of sows.

These are some of the principle components the Animal Welfare Strategy 2012-2016, a new four-year strategy aimed at strengthening the current EU rules on animal welfare, which the Commission presented this week.

Background

The first Animal Welfare Strategy ran from 2006-2010 and aimed to promote high animal welfare standards, better coordinate existing resources; replace, reduce and find alternative approaches to animal testing; better integrate animal welfare into other EU policy areas. EU law for farm animals is currently based on freedom from discomfort; freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from pain, injury and disease and freedom to express natural behaviour. The Commission evaluated the existing EU policy on animal welfare in 2010 and used the results of this evaluation as a basis for the drafting of the new Strategy.

The Commission identified a number of issues with the current state of play on animal welfare and it was decided that the current, sector specific approach is not as effective as it could be. The new Animal Welfare Strategy aims to build on the previous strategy and create a level playing field across all sectors and between all Member States. The new Strategy will take a comprehensive approach to improving animal welfare across the EU.

Who will benefit?

The new Animal Welfare Strategy will benefit animals, citizens and consumers. Consumer surveys have indicated that consumers are concerned for animal welfare and take it into consideration when buying animal products. The Commission hopes to improve the information provided to consumers and will develop guidelines on animal welfare certification schemes for display on products so that consumers can make an informed choice.

Farmers and other commercial sectors that deal with animals will benefit from the Strategy as it will enable them to better innovate and promote their efforts as regards animal welfare. 

General Legislative Framework

Up until now the Commission has focused on sector-specific actions in relation to animal welfare.  It is now clear that a broader, more comprehensive approach is required and the Commission therefore intends to adopt a legislative proposal simplifying the EU legislative framework surrounding animal welfare in 2014. This framework of measures would cover the use of science-based animal welfare indicators to provide a basis for the legal framework. It would also aim to increase transparency of information for consumers on animal welfare issues, establish a network of reference centres as well as the creation of common requirements for those people handling animals.

1. Outcome-based animal welfare indicators

These indicators would be scientifically validated and would complement existing prescriptive requirements in EU legislation. Such indicators have already been introduced in Directive 2007/43/EC laying down minimum rules for the protection of chickens kept for meat production and Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing. The use of outcome-based animal welfare indicators is already recognised at an international level by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

2. Transparency and Adequacy of Information for Consumers

Under the future EU animal welfare legislative framework, the Commission proposes to include a tool that would ensure that animal welfare claims on products are transparent for consumers and also scientifically relevant. This would add to existing measures across EU policy sectors which aim to empower consumers.

3. European network of reference centres

This proposal would ensure that the competent authorities at EU and Member State level receive coherent and uniform technical information on the implementation of EU legislation, in particular in the context of the outcome-based animal welfare indicators mentioned above.  The network could be based on the existing scientific and technical resources on animal welfare at national level which could be furthered financed complement the role of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC). The Animal Welfare Strategy indicates that the network could aim to:
a) Ensure technical support and expertise for both Member States and the Commission;
b)  Conduct training courses for staff from the relevant authorities and third country experts,     where relevant;
c) Contribute to the promotion of research findings and technical innovations among EU stakeholders and the international scientific community and
d) Coordinate research in conjunction with existing EU funded research structures.

4. Common Requirements for Personnel Handling Animals

As part of the envisaged framework, the requirements for personnel handling animals could be consolidated into one single text. These common requirements would provide handlers with the abilities to identify, prevent or limit animals’ pain and distress. They would also be trained in the legal obligations as regards animal welfare. The Commission plans to launch a study on animal welfare education in 2013.

Support for Member States

The new Strategy will help Member States improve compliance with EU legislation. The Commission aims to address this issue as a matter of urgency as better compliance will ensure a better uniform protection of animal welfare.

The Commission, through the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) will continue to vigorously apply its rules and to pursue Member States as far as the Court of Justice, where necessary. This would help to ensure compliance and discourage Member States from ignoring their obligations. Furthermore, a comprehensive education strategy could also help reduce implementation problems by promoting a culture of compliance.

The Commission intends to increase its training efforts for veterinary inspectors and extend its advisory role as regards Member States’ competent authorities. Scientific guidelines or implementing rules may be introduced across different areas of EU animal welfare legislation.

Other Actions

The Commission also commits itself to improving international cooperation as regards animal welfare through increased protection for animal welfare in bilateral trade agreements, being more active on the international stage at OIE and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) level and also improving the animal welfare focus at neighbourhood policy level.

Information for the general public on animal welfare issues needs to improve. The Commission commits itself to improving the transparency and adequacy of the information available to consumers and may also grant funding for information campaigns on this area,

The parallels between animal welfare and the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) are evident. Under the new Animal Welfare Strategy the Commission aims to improve and capitalise on the synergies between the policy areas.

The welfare of farmed fish will also be the subject of two studies. The first on the welfare of farmed fish at the time of killing is planned for 2013 and the second, on the welfare of farmed fish during transport, for 2015.

Next Steps

The Danish Presidency has indicated that the Animal Welfare Strategy is a priority issue for their term and initial discussions on the Strategy are scheduled to take place at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 23 January 2012. The European Parliament is also expected to respond to the Commission’s Communication in the coming months.