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February 8, 2017

Stop investing in animal suffering

Greater joined-up thinking needed on EU animal welfare and investment policy

Humane Society International

  • The EU continues to fund agricultural enterprises outside its boundaries that force sentient animals to live short and miserable lives in cruel confinement systems. HSI

Today MEPs Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA) and Isabella De Monte (S&D) joined Humane Society International in their call for greater collaboration with regard to animal welfare and investment policy in the European Union.

At a European Parliament event entitled Investing in Animal Suffering?, HSI presented a report that revealed how international financial institutions and export credit agencies, which are supported by EU Member States, continue to provide public money to intensive animal farming operations outside the EU that use production systems long prohibited in the EU on the grounds of animal welfare, such as barren battery cages for laying hens.  

MEPs, representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, farming industry, European Commission and the Austrian government had the opportunity to respond to the findings during a lively panel debate. The panellists acknowledged that although some progress has been made - by both international finance institutions and some Member States - since HSI first brought this issue to public attention in 2013, coherent policy action is still needed at both EU and Member State level to ensure that investment is restricted to those animal agricultural projects in third countries that meet or exceed the minimum EU animal welfare standards.

German Green MEP Martin Häusling noted:

“It has been over three years since Humane Society International first raised this important issue, yet – despite some progress - taxpayers’ money continues to fund agricultural enterprises outside the EU that force sentient animals to live short and miserable lives in cruel confinement systems. The European Commission and all Member States should follow the Austrian Government’s lead by issuing clear policy guidelines to ensure that in the future no public funds are invested in agricultural projects that do not meet our own animal welfare standards. It is also crucial to our own farmers that they are operating on a level playing field and do not have to compete with producers from outside the EU who are keeping farm animals under conditions that we have long deemed to be unacceptable.”

Italian S&D MEP Isabella De Monte said:

“Animal welfare is an issue that people throughout the EU care about deeply. Last year a Eurobarometer survey revealed that the welfare of farm animals was a matter of great importance for the vast majority of EU citizens. This study showed that nine out of ten people thought that animal products imported to the Union should respect our animal welfare standards and that the EU should also make greater efforts to promote a greater awareness of animal welfare internationally. Ensuring that public funds are not invested in projects elsewhere using cruel confinement systems that we have already banned in the EU would be a good way of meeting our citizens’ demands.”

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Joanna Swabe, Ph.D., executive director for Humane Society International/Europe, said:

“What is sorely needed is better joined-up thinking on the part of both the Commission and EU Member States to ensure that they do not continue to fund and insure animal agriculture operations in third countries that violate the EU’s own animal welfare legislation. It is clear from recent Council discussions that EU Agriculture Ministers are supportive, but they need to ensure that the departments responsible for animal welfare and international finance policy actually start talking to each other and implement measures to make sure that EU policy is applied consistently. Humane Society International salutes the Austria government for already having issued Strategic Guidelines for International Financial Institutions, which included a call for ‘animal husbandry criteria that meet the European standards.’ We strongly urge more Member States, as well as the Commission, follow suit.”

As major shareholders of IFIs, including the World Bank Group’s International Financial Corporation and a whole host of other development banks, EU Member States must ensure that binding animal welfare standards are adopted that are consistent with EU standards.

HSI has praised the EBRD for responding to its original critique by including animal welfare in its Environmental and Social Policy. However, they note that it has proved difficult to ascertain how well their policy of requiring their clients to adopt animal welfare standards equivalent to or exceeding those required in the EU is actually being implemented due to a lack of detailed information on animal housing and husbandry practices.

Greater transparency is therefore needed. HSI argues that Member States should compel IFIs and export credit agencies to disclose the indicators of animal welfare, such as stocking density and the type of housing systems, in project summaries. In so doing, it would make it possible to assess whether they are truly living up to their commitments to protect animal welfare. 


  • EU Member States own shares in multiple international financial institutions, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and European Investment Bank, which invest in animal agriculture outside of the EU. Member States also provide insurance in the form of export credits to domestic companies selling farm animal housing and equipment abroad.
  • In December 2014, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands signed a Joint Declaration on Animal Welfare in which they committed to promoting animal welfare in the framework of national and international finance institutions, as well as export credit agencies, which engage in the farming sector.
  • In 2015, Austria issued Strategic Guidelines for International Financial Institutions, which included a call for ‘animal husbandry criteria that meet the European standards’. The UK government also called on multilateral banks to ensure that their lending ‘strongly supports the delivery of appropriate animal welfare standards’.
  • On 10th October 2016, Austria raised the subject of animal welfare and investment policy at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 10th October 2016. Reportedly at least 19 Member States apparently spoke out in support of their initiative at the meeting.  
  • HSI has set up a website, www.hsi.org/finance, with in-depth information on international finance and animal welfare, as well as up-to-date lists and descriptions of animal agriculture projects being supported by international finance institutions.

Media contacts (for media enquiries only):

UK: Wendy Higgins, whiggins@hsi.org +44 (0)7989 972 423

US: Raul Arce-Contreras, rcontreras@humanesociety.org +1 301-721-6440

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