2019 perspectives for Animal Welfare in the EU

Thursday 31 January 2019

With the upcoming European elections of May 2019, it is interesting to take stock of the achievement of this legislature’s objectives, as well as the challenges that await the European Union (EU). Let’s take a closer look at the issue of animal welfare with two questions: what results and what perspectives?

Let’s start with the EU Platform on Animal Welfare[1] created in 2017 by the European Commission (Commission)[2]. It is constituted of over 75 members: representatives of the Member States, experts, the private sector, NGOS and international organisations. Its objective is not to create new legislation but to promote an enhanced dialogue between these different actors on animal welfare issues in order to achieve a better enforcement of the European regulation, to create voluntary commitments from businesses and to promote existing good practices in the EU. These different actors, who have already met four times around different themes – live animals transport, pig and horse welfare or online pet sales, for example –  over the last two years, should continue their work at the rate of two meetings per year. This year, because of the European elections, these meetings should take place in early spring and immediately after the summer holiday.

But these discussions are not limited to those biannual meetings as two thematic sub-groups were created in 2018 on the transport of animals and on the welfare of pigs, and it is of course possible that new sub-groups will be  created in 2019. In addition, members of the Platform are free to create informal working subgroups. There are currently four informal groups, respectively on fish, pullets, pets and equines. In order for the conclusions of these sub-groups to be endorsed by the Platform, a number of criteria will have to be met and will be evaluated by the European Commission, including work based on scientific evidence, the respect for a certain working methodology, representativeness of the member organizations of the subgroup, etc. The Commission’s DG SANTE has seen its manpower dedicated to animal welfare reduced and is directed by a Commissioner, Mr Andriukaitis, who is keen to support the different agricultural sectors in improving some practices rather than prohibiting them. The Platform is therefore a way of moving issues forward in a different manner, by favouring a more dialogue-based approach between different stakeholders rather than adopting new regulations.

In 2018, the Commission also designated the first European Reference Center for Animal Welfare[3], a consortium of three universities and research institutes, namely the Wageningen Livestock Research (Netherlands), the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (Germany) and the Department of Animal Science of the University of Aaarhus (Denmark). While this first Center focuses only on the welfare of pigs, the Commission has already announced the creation of a second European Reference Center on poultry, fur animals and rabbits. An organisation or consortium will be designated in 2019 and will be in charge of carrying out the activities of the Center who will start its work in 2020. These centers have, for instance, the vocation to provide scientific and technical recommendations to Member States to help the good implementation of EU legislation, to contribute to the dissemination of good practices and to form competent national authorities.

The third and last main priority for the year 2019 is the evaluation of the European Strategy for the protection and welfare of animals 2012-2015. According to Commissioner Andriukaitis, "this is probably the biggest project ahead of us." The objective is to provide information to the future Commissioner, who will enter into office in November 2019. This strategy was based on two main axes: the simplification of the regulation and reducing the administrative burden on the one hand, and reinforcing Member States' compliance with standards, as well as better information for the consumer on the other[4].

As part of a report published in November 2018[5], the European Court of Auditors examined the compliance with the objectives set out in this strategy, as well as the synergies between the EU animal welfare legislation and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In this report, which is based on visits to five Member States: France, Italy, Germany, Poland and Romania, the Court points out that the EU has the highest animal welfare’s standards in the world. It is also stated that animal welfare has been improved through the combination of so-called soft law documents (guidelines, etc.) and regulations. Identified shortcomings include the maintenance of tail docking in pigs, the transport of live animals, and the misuse of ritual slaughter. In addition, the Court of Auditors calls for strengthening the links between CAP and animal welfare in both the first and second pillars.

European authorities are not the only ones to launch initiatives on animal welfare.  The private sector has also established several labels providing information on the farming method. For instance, the French Label Rouge[6] gives an indication of the overall quality of a product, and the farming method - outdoors, to ensure the highest animal welfare standard - is one of the criteria, as well as the respect of the environment. This label exists since 1960 and shows that farmers did not wait for the European legislator to respond to consumers’ demands. While these initiatives are mostly done on a voluntary basis, some of them have become mandatory as it has been the case for the indication of the method of production on eggs sold in the EU[7].

It is clear that progress has been made in terms of animal welfare under the lead of both the institutions and the agricultural actors. The report of the European Court of Auditors as well as the assessment of the animal welfare strategy will constitute the main tools for the next Commission to continue working on this topic.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/welfare/eu-platform-animal-welfare_en

[2] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32017D0131(01)

[3] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32018R0329

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/animals/docs/aw_eu_strategy_19012012_en.pdf

[5] https://www.eca.europa.eu/Lists/ECADocuments/SR18_31/SR_ANIMAL_WELFARE_EN.pdf

[6] https://www.labelrouge.fr/

[7] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:163:0006:0023:EN:PDF

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