The ball is slowly starting to roll in the world of EU animal welfare legislation! On December 9, the EU Commission gathered stakeholders from various backgrounds for a one-day conference on the future of animal welfare in Europe, where Jacopo Goracci, coordinator of Slow Food Razza Maremmana Presidium in Tuscany, Italy, bring the voice of small-scale agroecological farmers to the table. That same day, Slow Food released its new policy brief on animal welfare policy and its political recommendations.
December 9th was all about animal welfare in the EU bubble! Throughout the day, political stakeholders, farmers, scientists, representatives of civil society organizations took turns at the European Commission’s high-level conference “EU Animal Welfare: Today and Tomorrow”, to discuss the preliminary findings of the Fitness Check of the current EU animal welfare legislation. It also offered a possibility for all participants to express opinions on the Commission’s main ideas on the revision of the EU animal welfare legislation.
The same day, Slow Food Europe launched a policy brief about the state of animal welfare in the European Union and its political recommendations.
“We need a paradigm shift in the relationship between humans and farmed animals, with a consistent reduction of farmed animals and a greater respect for relation of the animals with the surrounding ecosystem and their natural needs as sentient beings”, commented Yael Pantzer, policy officer at Slow Food Europe.
The EU Animal Welfare Legislation is Obsolete
In her opening speech, Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, announced that the time has come for the EU to step up its game on the protection of farmed animals: “This conference is an important milestone in shaping Animal welfare legislation for tomorrow. We should aim for higher standards for our animals, and I aspire to do this”.
And there is a lot of work ahead. As confirmed by several speakers, the current animal welfare EU rules are outdated and not fit for purpose on many aspects.
First, while it has been acknowledged that animals are sentient beings, EU legislation does not reflect this fully, and in most cases, animals are impeded or limited in expressing their natural behaviour.
Second, EU rules on animal welfare do not reflect citizens’ will and worries. For example, currently no EU wide labelling system on animal welfare exists (except for eggs) preventing consumers from getting clear information about the conditions in which animals are raised. The importance of animal welfare for EU citizens has clearly emerged through the ECI End of Cage Age asking to ban the use of cages in animal farming and for which more than 1.4 million signatures of EU citizens were collected across the EU.
Thirdly, as Jacopo Goracci, Slow Food farmer, rightly pointed out during the conference, EU animal welfare regulations fail to support agroecological farmers with high animal welfare standards: “Currently, because of how the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is designed and implemented, it mostly rewards intensive farms with low overall welfare, which adopt very small improvements”.
If you want to express your views on animal welfare, you can respond to the European Commission Consultation until the 21st of January!
Make sure to use our policy brief to guide your answers.
“Animals are Sentient Beings”
One of the conference’s most talked-about intervention was surely that of Mrs Jane Goodall, famous British anthropologist, primatologist and ethologist, who is one of the world’s experts on chimpanzees. During her speech, she particularly insisted on the need for all of us to develop a more compassionate view of the animals which we share the planet with. “Animals are sentient beings. Every farmed animal is capable of feeling not only happiness, when in good conditions, but also fear, terror and despair. And they all feel pain.”
▶️Delighted to exchange views with citizens and Dr. #JaneGoodall on animal welfare.
— Stella Kyriakides (@SKyriakidesEU) December 9, 2021
And as she reminded the audience, if animals suffer, humans do too. If this is true that the COVID-19 pandemic has enabled a greater awareness of the fact that 70% of new diseases are of zoonotic origin, it has not done so about the consequences of industrial animal farming. “Factory farms affect human health”, Goodall comments. “Meat produced cheaply in factory farms is the reason why we consume more meat, and it is one of the reasons of the obesity epidemic. In addition, it is causing resistance on antibiotics, as they are intensively used”.
Mrs Goodall’s remarks did not meet unanimity in the room, where some participants representing the agri-food lobby and the meat sector expressed their disapproval of the use of emotions during a policy debate. Critics that were quickly countered by Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU, who reminded everyone that it is actually science that had demonstrated that animals are sentient beings, a fact that is not an obstacle, but rather supports the need to step up animal welfare legislation.
So right! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 My colleague @Olga_CIWF stresses how science, clearly demonstrating that animals are sentience beings, supports and not obstacles a step-up in #animalwelfare legislation #Time4AW pic.twitter.com/h6voNKIHLZ
— Annamaria Pisapia (@Annamaria_Ciwf) December 9, 2021
Overall EU Support for Better Animal Welfare
Throughout the day, various EU stakeholders showed strong support to the need for ambition in animal welfare in Europe. “We’re still hearing a lot of arguments from the industry on why improving animal welfare is difficult. But solutions are not hard to find. If you want to find them.”, commented Member of the EU Parliament Anja Hazekamp. Her colleague Norbert Lins called on the EU to facilitate the establishment & uptake of small-scale and/or mobile slaughterhouses to diminish animal suffering during transport and animals’ end-of-life stress”.
Through the review of the animal welfare legislation and the implementation of the EU Farm to Fork strategy, the European Commission also seems determined to improve animal welfare, as it is a key component for the transition to a sustainable food system in Europe: “It is our ethical duty to protect the animals around us”.
“When we think of a farm, we must think of it as a system: improving one aspect without considering the others might lead to undesired outcomes. Halting mutilations without implementing a system change for the whole farm, will not improve overall.”
“Slow Food is glad to see that the European Commission is showing true commitment in improving animal welfare legislation through the Eu Farm to Fork Strategy and hopes that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will align and deliver in rewarding ambitious farmers, while halting subsidies for industrial animal farming”, Pantzer commented.
In its new policy brief, Slow Food calls the EU institutions to shift away from industrial intensive animal farming, which is at the root of the mistreatment and suffering of domesticated animals. EU animal welfare policies must drive the transition to agroecological farming through clear targets and deadlines to reach a healthy, sustainable, and animal-friendly food system.