In 2020, as part of the Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission committed to revising the current EU animal welfare legislation and drafting new legislative proposals by 2023. So, in a few months from now, the Commission will be presenting new animal welfare proposals to the European Parliament and Council of the European Union.
This could be a major milestone for animals in Europe. But legislative processes at EU level can be complex and difficult to follow. Which is why each week, we will dive deep into the potential changes to the current legislation, their significance, and the impact they would have on animals, farmers and society as a whole.
The status quo
The current EU animal welfare legislation is composed of a General Farming Directive (Council Directive 98/58/EC), four species-specific rules for laying hens, broilers, pigs and calves and two regulations on live animal transport (Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005) and on slaughter (Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/. All these seven legislative acts were adopted between 1998 and 2009. But in the meantime, animal welfare science and public awareness of the challenges linked to animal welfare have evolved greatly and many gaps within the current EU rules on animal welfare have been evidenced by civil society and the European Court of Auditors.
The conditions under which animals are farmed, transported and slaughtered vary significantly across the EU and rules are often breached due to poor enforcement. A main reason for this is the intensification of animal production in EU farming systems, which has triggered the development of industrial farming practices that are highly detrimental to the welfare of animals. As a result, millions of farm animals are kept in cages, are mutilated (via castration, tail docking, teeth clipping, beak trimming, dehorning), and are transported on long journeys. In short, the animals are made to adapt to prevailing agricultural practices rather than farming in a way that is based on the needs of the animals. Similarly, due to rampant demand for young companion animals in the EU, many cats and dogs are bred, kept and traded illegally in terrible conditions.
The idea of what constitutes a companion animal has evolved as the private keeping and breeding of exotic species rises within the EU. Standards for welfare and health vary drastically across member states, resulting in an often poorly regulated wild animal pet industry leading to bad practices that ignore animal welfare standards. This growing problem has resulted in the need for harmonized legislation to reduce exotic pet ownership and better define what species are suitable as companion animals.
FOUR PAWS would therefore welcome an overhaul of the current legislation through the application of the ‘Five Domains Model’ as an animal welfare assessment framework, with the aim of enabling all animals to have a good life – a life worth living.
What will happen
In the coming months, the European Commission will finish their proposals to overhaul the current body of law, and will present four bills (Kept Animals, Transport, Slaughter and Labelling) to the European Parliament and Council of the EU for legislative scrutiny before they are adopted in 2026. This period is key as the proposals could significantly change according to the political environment (e.g.: European elections) and public pressure from EU citizens and civil society.
The new pieces of legislation will set the frame on how animals will be kept, transported and slaughtered in the European Union for the decades to come and further influence farming practices outside the EU via the “Brussels effect”. Simultaneously, the new animal welfare legislation could increase synergies with the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy as well as with climate mitigation and environmental restoration policies.
It is therefore essential that the changes ensure a high level of welfare for animals in the EU but also for animal-sourced products imported from outside the EU. It is also important that financial support is provided to farmers transitioning to more sustainable and animal-welfare friendly farming practices.
What you can do
While the proposals are being drafted, we have the chance to call on the European Commission to be as ambitious as possible. Through this series of blogposts, we hope to empower you to make informed decisions and take action in support for better animal welfare in the EU. For instance, as the European Elections approach, make sure to give your support to candidates who are committed to vote for ambitious proposals!
Stay tuned every Thursday as we release our weekly blogs on various elements of the upcoming EU Animal Welfare legislation!