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European Commission out of touch with its citizens: Animal welfare remains in the background of future agricultural policy


Animal welfare organisations FOUR PAWS, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and Humane Society International/Europe (HSI) are missing animal welfare in the European Commission’s Common Agricultural Policy Communication on “The Future of Food and Farming”


On Wednesday 29th November, EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan presented the long-announced Communication on “The Future of Food and Farming”, reigniting the ongoing debate on the direction of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) in coming years.


In preparation, the EU Commission undertook a public consultation in early 2017, which received over 320,000 online responses, as well as over 1,400 position papers, and carried out an impact assessment of alternative scenarios for the future of the CAP. In contrast to common practice in other policy areas and calls from a large and diverse section of civil society, the EU Commission refrained from exercising a so-called fitness check, a comprehensive policy evaluation assessing whether the regulatory framework for a policy sector is fit for purpose.


An initial evaluation of the communication shows that animal welfare has been left on the margins of the discussion, once again, and is barely addressed in this strategy document. This is deeply troubling and contradictory to the results of the Commission’s public consultation that confirmed that EU farmers and organisations, and most importantly, EU citizens, see animal welfare as an important objective within the new CAP. Furthermore, the 2016 Special Eurobarometer on the attitudes of Europeans towards animal welfare was strikingly clear regarding farm animal welfare, with 94% of Europeans viewing it as important to protect the welfare of farm animals, and more than four out of five respondents believing that, based on current standards, farm animal welfare needs to be improved.


Farming has changed dramatically since the CAP was launched decades ago. We now raise approximately 8.6 billion land animals for food in the EU each year. Such a large number of animals, raised in predominantly intensive systems, is incompatible with high animal welfare standards. In order to lessen the heavy environmental burden of intensive animal agriculture, and at the same time improve the diets and health of EU citizens, the CAP must shift from stimulating intensive animal production towards smaller scale and higher welfare farming and promoting plant-based production and consumption. Reducing the number of farm animals raised for food in the EU will mean that more space, care, and resources can be allocated to each individual animal, resulting in better management and welfare. Only minor amendments to the existing agricultural policy will not solve the prevailing problems. Voluntary initiatives to increase animal welfare standards, as mentioned in the Communication presented today, are already in place by some Member States but they have proven almost ineffective. Mandatory provisions with measurable outcomes are needed if we are to make the transition from further intensification of farming to a food system that promotes higher welfare farming and more sustainable plant-based production.


FOUR PAWS, CIWF and HSI are part of the growing animal advocacy movement in Europe. The European Commission must listen to, and act on, the concerns of its citizens who care deeply about farm animal welfare and the environment. Public money ought to be spent towards a well-functioning ‘food and farming policy’ that addresses citizens’ expectations and provides for a much-needed transition away from the damaging and unsustainable practices of the past. The EU’s response to 21st century challenges of providing nutritious food for its citizens and a fair income for its farmers will only work if the policy delivers concrete environmental and animal welfare benefits. We urge the Commission to urgently work towards delivering these goals.