28th Oct 2016

EU 'must frame new animal welfare rules'

  • 82 percent of EU citizens said the welfare of farm animals should "probably" or "certainly" be improved (Photo: Kol Tregaskes)

A group of northern and western European ministers called on the European Commission to come up with new rules to improve animal welfare standards on Tuesday (15 March), as an EU-wide poll suggests increasing concern among EU citizens about the treatment of farm animals.

“Cows, pigs, and chickens are not production units, they are sentient beings,” said Martijn van Dam, agriculture minister for the Netherlands, at a seminar in the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Discarded bodies of ducks who died during force-feeding at foie gras production, according to US animal rights organisation Farm Sanctuary. (Photo: Farm Sanctuary)

“They have a right to more care and more protection.”

Together with colleagues from Sweden, Belgium, and Germany, he asked the EU commission to write a new strategy paper on animal welfare. The old one expired at the end of last year.

“Things are gradually improving in the Netherlands,” said Van Dam.

“Now, in order to improve animal welfare across the whole of Europe, to create a level playing field, and to facilitate the marketing of animal products, we need to have a new animal welfare strategy on an EU level.”

The Dutch official said that for example the commission should investigate the impact of capping animal transport time to a maximum of eight hours.

Foie gras to foie fair

His colleague Ben Weyts, minister in the Belgian region Flanders, said the new plan should also include rules to protect pets, and suggested pet registration tools should be standardised across Europe to combat illegal trade of puppies and kittens.

Weyts noted that European citizens care deeply about animal welfare, and that he could not understand why policy-makers in Brussels were not doing more in that field, as it would be “a perfect possibility for advocates of European integration to present themselves”.

In his speech, Weyts also noted that European standards now sometimes run counter to animal welfare, for example in the case of EU minimum weight requirements for foie gras – fattened duck or goose liver.

“It is almost impossible to reach the unrealistic standard of the European Union without force-feeding,” he said.

“If we lower the bar, it will become possible to get the label of foie gras without so much animal suffering, and foie gras could become foie fair.”

In France, foie gras is seen as a cultural delicacy. Attitudes towards food vary according to cultural traditions across Europe.

'Aim for quality'

The same day as the event took place in Brussels, an EU-funded survey was published about attitudes towards animal welfare.

According to the Eurobarometer poll, 44 percent of EU citizens said the welfare of farm animals should “certainly” be better protected (they were 35 percent in 2006), while 38 percent agreed that this should “probably” happen (42 percent in 2006). The total of those two categories increased from 77 to 82 percent in 10 years.

When asked what layer of government should make the rules for animal welfare, 28 percent of respondents said it should be done mainly by the national government, while 19 percent supported a mainly EU approach. Some 49 percent said it should happen at both levels.

However, when asked if consumers would be willing to pay more for food produced in a way that was animal-friendly, the survey showed large divergences between richer and poorer member states in the EU.

In seven member states (Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria, Portugal) a majority said they would not be willing to pay even 5 percent more. Another five member states (Spain, Latvia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece) had over 40 percent of respondents not wanting to pay more.

Flemish minister Ben Weyts told this website that several countries saw improving animal welfare and a profitable agricultural sector as incompatible.

However, he argued that if the label Made in Europe would mean "made with maximum respect for animal welfare", that would give European farmers a competitive edge.

“We have to aim for quality in Europe, and for animal welfare”, said Weyts. “That is an economic argument, not only ethical.”

MEPs urge 'ambitious strategy'

The EU commission was also present at the EP event in Brussels. Michael Scannell, food chain director at the commission's food policy department, spoke frankly about why it was unlikely the Dutch-German-Swedish-Belgian demands would be met soon.

“We have had to accept, this is the vanguard of pressure for more action on animal welfare,” he said about the northern/western European alliance.

“When we hear, and we do, demands for more legislation, we have to keep in mind, frankly, the lack of support there is in a great many quarters for more legislation in this area.”

Scannell called to memory that negotiations for EU rules on animal transport adopted in 2004 were “extraordinarily difficult”.

“It caused a lot of bitterness, and difficulties at the time, and caused some very serious divisions,” he said.

“We can launch lots of more legislative initiatives and again, cause real divisions. We are more interested in seeing concrete on-the-ground progress.

“If cooperation and guidelines help that, we'll do it, and we'll make no apology for it.”

The commission is only likely to take more legislative action if other member states apply pressure.

The European Parliament has already shown that it wants a new animal welfare strategy.

In a non-binding text adopted last November, MEPs said the commission should “draw up a new and ambitious strategy for the protection and welfare of animals for the 2016-2020 period”.

The text was supported by 542 MEPs, or 85 percent of those who voted.


A world without waste

A garbage crisis in Naples, Italy, gave birth to the "zero waste" movement, but is the rest of Europe brave enough to change the way it thinks about trash?

News in Brief

  1. Budget commissioner Georgieva takes up World Bank post
  2. Walloon parliament votes to accept Ceta
  3. Euro deficit to fall below 2% next year, commission says
  4. Migration and security top Germany's EU agenda
  5. EU finance rules need 'neutral' enforcer, Germany says
  6. Northern Ireland court rejects Brexit case
  7. EU tables Atlantic sea bass fishing ban
  8. EU states issue record number of residence permits

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersUN global sustainable development goals, integration, and security on agenda for Nordic Council Session 2016
  2. Taipei EU OfficeTaiwan Seeks to Join Fight against Global Warming
  3. ANCI LazioAnci Lazio Definetely has a lot to Celebrate This Year
  4. EU-China ForumDebating the Future of the EU-China Relations on 28 November in Prague
  5. COMECEMigrants: From Fear to Compassion
  6. Birdlife EuropeBusiness as Usual - Juncker Snubs Environment and Protects Broken CAP
  7. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  8. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  9. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  10. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  11. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  12. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament

Latest News

  1. Belgium green lights unchanged Ceta
  2. Poland rejects EU 'interferences' on rule of law
  3. On-road emissions tests: How EU failed to change to the fast lane
  4. Dutch PM asks opposition's help on Ukraine agreement
  5. Wallonia's heroic stand against Ceta is a stand for democracy
  6. Calais children abandoned at former camp site
  7. Greece to probe UN allegations of illegal returns
  8. Poland defies EU on rule of law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  2. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  3. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  4. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersFish Skin on Bare Skin: Turning Fish Waste into Sustainable Fashion
  6. CEDECOpportunities From the Creation of Synergies at Local Level in the Energy Transition
  7. ACCAFinTech Boom Needs Strong Guidance to Navigate Regulatory Hurdles
  8. Counter BalanceWhy the Investment Plan for Europe Does not Drive the Sustainable Energy Transition
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region Seeks to Make Its Voice Heard in the World
  10. Taipei EU OfficeCountries Voice Support for Taiwan's Participation in ICAO
  11. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  12. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement