Animal Welfare According to Slow Food
Each year the welfare of millions of animals raised for their meat, milk and eggs for human consumption is often seriously compromised.
FAO data indicates that around 1 billion people depend on animals as a source of income, food, cultural identity and social status. It is estimated that 60% of families that live in rural areas keep animals.
The current system poses a great threat to the livelihood of small-scale farmers who cannot keep up with the competition of big producers and the low prices of industrial meat production.
The intensive production of meat requires vast amounts of land to allow space for grazing and the production of animal feed. Around 3,5 billion hectares of land (making up 26% of total dry land) are involved in meat production. The intensive production of animal feed has devastating impacts on the environment. It is estimated that cattle raising is responsible for about 80% of all deforestation in the Amazon region.
In 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon of the European Union officially recognized animals as sentient beings and stated that Member States must pay full regard to animal welfare in decision making.
Animals pay a harsh price in the current system. Factory farms reduce animals to mere machines and commodities. They are packed into tight cages or confined to small spaces where they spend a short but painful life.
Living in these conditions makes animals more prone to diseases. In many intensive farms they are therefore routinely injected with vaccines and antibiotics, posing a risk to those who consume their meat. In the US for instance, 80% of all antibiotics used is destined to the livestock sector and in Germany data indicates that an estimated 1700 metric tonnes of antibiotics are employed for veterinary use compared to about 300 metric tonnes for humans use.
Since the early 1990’s, the European Union has been on the forefront concerning animal welfare legislation.
Much has been achieved over the years: Barren battery cages for hens have been outlawed, as have sow stalls (after the first few weeks of pregnancy) and the tethering of sows and veal crates. However, much still remains to be done and at the heart of the problem lay issues of enforcement and implementation.
The European Union’s second Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals was welcomed in 2012 and outlines the EU’s vision for animal welfare until 2015. While the document outlines that the EU is committed to the issue, many areas were not addressed and a serious legislative void exists in many cases:
– Animal transport: legislation currently allows animals to be transported for several days. While animal advocacy groups are working to set a limit at eight hours, for Slow Food this is still an unacceptably long transport time.
– Dairy cows: no law regulating the well-being of cows used in the dairy industry currently exists.
– Antibiotics: a strategy for the substantial reduction of the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry is needed.
– Cloned Animals: a clear ban on the sale of meat from clones and their offspring is yet to be put in place.
– Labelling: no labelling system for meat products exists, making animal-welfare friendly choices difficult for consumers and leaving them further in the dark as to whether animals are fed with GM feed.
Slow Food is convinced that a greater coherence on food policies at the EU level is needed and, in this respect, hopes that the Common Agricultural Policy measures on animal welfare will provide real support to farmers. In particular, it is necessary to introduce measures that take into consideration the cost of animal welfare by supporting farmers who voluntary choose to improve their standards beyond those required by law. Slow Food will furthermore strive for the full recognition of animal welfare as an element in future EU strategies on the sustainability of the food system.
Slow Food’s survey on meat consumption and animal welfare indicated that 89% of respondents believe that animal welfare does not receive enough attention in their country’s policies. Members also called for Slow Food to take action by raising awareness among public authorities and supporting producers who work to better the condition of their animals.
Watch the European Commission’s video on animal welfare, in which Piero Sardo, Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity President, explains Slow Food’s position on animal welfare.