Animal protection charity slams toothless animal welfare report adopted by European Parliament

Humane Society International / Europe


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Brussels Yesterday, the European Parliament voted in favour of a retrograde report from its Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development on the implementation of on-farm animal welfare, disregarding science and uncritically supporting the continuation of intensive animal agriculture, particularly if animal welfare improvements would be accompanied with financial costs.  

Humane Society International/Europe’s senior director of public affairs, Dr Joanna Swabe, issued the following statement after the Plenary vote:  

“It is lamentable that a majority of MEPs followed the position taken by their AGRI committee colleagues, many of whom have vested economic interests in farming. The foxes are effectively in charge of the henhouse. From the outset, allowing producers to carry on with business as usual took precedence over improving the welfare conditions under which billions of sentient animals are intensively kept for food production. Worse still, the report’s claims that there are no reliable solutions to tail-biting in pigs – and that all is well with the welfare of force-fed ducks and geese – fly in the face of animal welfare science.  

“None of this bodes well for the future revision of the EU animal welfare acquis. While we anticipate that the Commission will deliver a progressive proposal in 2023, there is likely to be a major battle ahead to ensure that this is not diluted by those whose sole interest is maintaining the status quo.”   

Nearly 1.4 million EU citizens signed the recent European Citizens’ Initiative to End the Cage Age for farmed animals. It is vital that Members of the European Parliament, as well as EU Member State governments, pay heed to their calls and take decisions that are not at odds with societal attitudes towards animal welfare. It does not help that Member States are already failing to adequately enforce the existing and now outdated body of EU animal welfare legislation. 

Humane Society International will continue to push for meaningful changes to improve the lives of animals kept for food production in the EU. This includes an end to caged confinement for farmed animals and the development of welfare standards for species for which there is presently no species-specific legislation.  The farming industry itself has the highest possible stake in the adoption of stronger welfare standards during this legislative revision process. In the end, this approach will futureproof the farming industry. If farmers must make additional investments, then it must be in systems that will still be viable, from an animal welfare science perspective, in the coming decades.  

Background information 

  • In 2020, in the framework of its Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission committed to revising and broadening the scope of the existing animal welfare legislation, also bringing it in line with current scientific knowledge. It is expected to deliver its legislative proposal, including a ban on caged confinement of food animals, in the fourth quarter of 2023. 
  • There were nearly 60,000 responses to a recent Commission consultation on the revision of EU animal welfare legislation. The vast majority of respondents were EU citizens.   
  • The AGRI report was initially drafted by French MEP and cattle breeder Jeremy Decerle (Renew Europe). While marginally improved through amendments at committee stage, the report is weak and compromised by fallacious claims that are not substantiated by animal welfare science. 
  • The report adopted by the AGRI committee included the claim that the fattening process for birds in foie gras production “respects the animals’ biological parameters”. However, it is an undisputed scientific fact that the force-feeding of ducks and geese leads to steatosis of the liver, which causes great suffering and makes it difficult for the birds to walk and breathe normally. In stark contrast, the ENVI Opinion unequivocally calls for a ban on force-feeding.  
  • It also fallaciously claimed that “no reliable solutions whatsoever have been found thus far for the problem of tail-biting in pigs”. Tail-biting occurs in pigs when they do not have a suitable outlet for their natural instinct to investigate their surroundings. The Pigs Directive requires that farmers provide enrichment materials, such as straw, hay, or wood, as well as improve the pigs’ overall housing environment and the farm’s management systems. Finland and Sweden have proved themselves perfectly capable of eliminating tail-docking as a routine practice to prevent tail-biting. However, as DG SANTE audits have illustrated, in most other EU countries 98,5%–100% of pigs are still being tail-docked. Tail-biting persists only because producers are failing to provide adequate levels of environmental enrichment along with the other management practices that would permit them to abandon tail docking. 
  • The AGRI report states that ‘a distinction should be drawn between anecdotal cases of non-compliance… and the vast majority of farmers who follow the rules’. As illustrated by DS SANTE’s audits, non-compliance with EU animal welfare rules is far from anecdotal, but a structural problem in some sectors.   
  • The AGRI report continues to reference the outdated ‘Five Freedoms’ model, whereas – as acknowledged by the ENVI Opinion – the Five Domains Model is the more up-to-date framework used for animal welfare assessment. These domains are: 1) Nutrition, 2) Physical Environment, 3) Health, 4) Behavioural Interactions and 5) Mental State. 
  • Further, the economic implications of animal welfare requirements and the burden this may place on producers, as well as any future mandatory animal welfare labelling, was a key focus of the AGRI report. Impact assessments are deemed necessary before any decisions are taken, which implicitly suggests that economic considerations should take precedence over improvements in animal welfare.  The report notes that all producers should be compliant with existing standards before additional burdens are placed on them and lengthy transition periods would be required to make changes, which is tantamount to ensuring the continuation of poor animal welfare conditions irrespective of current scientific recommendations.

Media contact: Yavor Gechev, +359889468098; ygechev@hsi.org

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