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EU Strategy for the Welfare of Animals - mid-point review

11 February 2014
by eub2 -- last modified 12 February 2014

The European Commission marks the mid-point of the EU Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2012-2015 in Brussels on 12 February 2014. The event brought together key stakeholders to review the achievements of the strategy to date, and to identify remaining challenges. Government authorities, non-governmental organisations and those who work with animals every day discussed practical issues related to animal welfare and identify key areas for action to improve animal conditions for the strategy’s remaining term and beyond.


Why does the welfare of animals matter?

The EU is a world leader in developing and applying legislation to improve animal welfare. Although the EU Treaty recognises animals as sentient beings, animal welfare laws need the commitment of farmers, veterinarians, transporters, public enforcement officers, retailers, researchers, educators and citizens. Ensuring the welfare of animals from farm to fork is, the Commission states, everyone's responsibility and the EU supports many innovative programmes for the improvement of animal care.

Over the past four decades, EU animal welfare legislation has evolved on the basis of sound scientific knowledge and EU standards have improved the quality of animals' lives, in line with citizens' expectations and market needs. The Commission addresses animal welfare as a priority through a combination of legislation, training initiatives, cooperation with Member States and stakeholders and enforcement activities.

What has been achieved at the mid-point of the strategy?

In 2012, the Commission adopted a four year strategy to ensure that farm animals are kept and transported under conditions that do not subject them to maltreatment, abuse, pain or suffering. A review at the mid-point of the strategy at a conference hosted by the Commission on 12 February highlighted the achievements of the strategy to date, and addressed areas where further action is needed during the coming years and beyond.

Notable achievements in animal welfare in the EU are:

  • Animal Welfare Training: To date, more than 2 000 veterinarians have received training on animal welfare as a result of a European Commission programme.
  • EU-wide ban on conventional cages for laying hens: Evidence shows that the health and welfare of hens has considerably improved since 2012 when this ban came into force. They now have more space with a nest, perches and litter to satisfy their behavioural needs. Consequently, 360 million laying hens have a better quality of life and the food they produce is of a higher quality, providing health benefits to EU citizens.
  • More respect for the behavioural needs of pigs: Since January 2013 sows can no longer be kept in barren individual cages and they are now kept in groups during pregnancy. They can move around freely and are provided with suitable nesting material which makes for happier sows. The new farming system clearly increases the survival rate of new-born piglets and improves the health of these very social animals. 12 million sows benefit from a better quality of life.
  • Ban on animal testing for cosmetics: Since 2009 no testing for cosmetic purposes has been carried out in the EU.
  • Transport conditions of animals continuously improve: The overall quality of animal transport has improved, notably due to better vehicles and more skilful handling of the animals. In addition, throughout Europe, facilities have been provided or improved to allow the unloading of animals for appropriate rest periods.
  • Animal welfare policies exported: Regional workshops have been specifically dedicated to non-EU countries to improve the application of EU standards, involving 237 participants from more than 30 countries.

What remains to be done?

There are areas where the Commission believes further reflection and/or action is needed during the strategy's remaining term and beyond.

Along with the relevant stakeholders, the Commission promises to continue to reflect on the feasibility of a new legal framework for animal welfare and consider whether priority should be given to a new law or to non-binding activities.

Work on setting up reference centres for animal protection and welfare across the EU shall continue. To this end, the Commission has launched a pilot project (EUWELNET). The results are expected soon and will prepare the groundwork for a future network of reference centres.

The Commission says it will continue to address enforcement of animal welfare as a matter of priority. Since 2006, the EU has funded training initiatives and workshops both within and outside the EU to ensure uniform enforcement of animal welfare laws. Going forward, the Commission says it will continue to monitor progress made by Member States in achieving full compliance with requirements, and will launch infringement procedures as necessary.

Finally, following on from the first EU conference on the welfare of dogs and cats in October 2013, the Commission is looking to reflect on how this issue – currently under the sole responsibility of Member States – can be addressed at EU-level. A study on the welfare of dogs and cats involved in commercial practices has recently been launched, and the outcome, along with the results of the October 2013 conference, will feed into this 'reflection process'.

EU animal welfare strategy - Commission website

EU Strategy for Protection and Welfare of animals 2012 - 2015

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