On the 14th of September, Ursula von der Leyen delivered her third State of the European Union address, announcing several steps that her Commission would take to tackle Europe's most pressing problems. While her speech made no mention of the Farm to Fork Strategy nor the future of a more sustainable European agriculture and food system, her Letter of Intent that followed included the revision of Animal Welfare legislation as one the main priorities of the European Commission’s future agenda. So, what does this tell us?
On the one hand, the failure to mention President von der Leyen’s commitment to a sustainable EU food system during her main speech is worrisome. In the face of rising resistance towards an urgently needed transition shifting away from low-cost and low-quality production based on animal suffering and environmental damage, strong EU leadership is crucial. On the other hand, the prioritisation of animal welfare legislation within European Commission's most important initiatives for 2023 confirms some commitment in changing the status quo.
Improved animal welfare is a key element to achieving the outcomes of the Green Deal and FOUR PAWS believes this is the time to bring an end to factory farming, starting with the phasing out of cruel cage-keeping across Europe. As the European Commission sets itself the long-awaited task to revise and improve animal welfare legislation, we hope to see the end of long-distance live transport and the end of transport of all unweaned animals. We also would like to see a long-term commitment to reduce the number of animals reared to afford them better keeping conditions and ensure a fair transition to diets rich in plant-based foods.
The von der Leyen Commission can ensure its legacy of a strong European Green Deal, and Farm to Fork Strategy, by tackling the number of animals we rear. This is where it will be vital for the Sustainable Food Systems Framework law – conspicuously absent from the 2023 proposals – to set targets to reduce the consumption and production of animal products by 70% by 2030 across Europe.
Furthermore, it is to be noted that earlier this year, a European Commission survey showed that 92% of the near 60,000 public respondents wanted stronger legislation on animal welfare. Now is the time to concretise an alignment between EU citizens and EU institutions by ensuring fundamental changes are tabled in the final 18 months of this parliamentary cycle.
Authors: Pierre Sultana and Sophie Aylmer