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20th Apr 2019

EU to review animal welfare strategy

  • Animal welfare is improving in the EU, but implementation of EU rules is slow, say auditors (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Commission is going to evaluate its animal welfare strategy, it has said in response to a report by the European Court of Auditors published on Wednesday (14 November).

The review of the strategy comes almost three years after the European Parliament asked for it.

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  • 'The guidelines on pig welfare and on the protection of animals at slaughter were also delayed due to lengthy discussions with stakeholders,' said the auditors (Photo: European Parliament)

The auditors said in their report that animal welfare in the EU has improved, but that member states were slow to implement recommendations from the commission.

One example of slow implementation was found in France.

In 2010, the EU commission had recommended that French inspectors use better equipment to check conditions of animals' environment on farms and during transport.

According to French legal requirements already in place since 2000, inspectors were supposed to have specialised equipment to make measurements.

"The French authorities had not, however, procured all the required equipment by the time of our audit," the auditors wrote.

"During our visit to a laying hens farm certified as free-range, where the presence of ammonia inside the building was evident, the French inspector did not have the necessary equipment to measure the level of gas concentration. The inspector noted in the inspection report that the related requirement had been met," they added.

Following the auditors' visit, French authorities told the EU commission in spring 2018 that they had bought measurement equipment.

"However, inspectors were only asked to use this on farms raising chickens for meat," the report said.

Meanwhile, Romania had been told several times between 2009 and 2011 that it needed to have legal sanctions in place for those who broke EU animal welfare rules.

"At the time of our audit, the Romanian authorities had not yet approved the necessary changes in the legislation to apply such sanctions," said the report.

A review, finally

The EU's animal welfare strategy was published in 2012, and was specifically designed for the period 2012-2015.

However, some of the proposed measures were delayed until after 2015, and the commission has not published a new strategy paper since.

On 26 November 2015, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution urging the commission "to evaluate the existing strategy and to draw up a new and ambitious strategy for the protection and welfare of animals for the 2016-2020 period in order to build on the work of the previous strategy and ensure the continuation of a framework for delivering high animal welfare standards across the member states".

In March 2016, a group of northern and western European ministers also called for new rules to improve animal welfare standards.

The European Court of Auditors said in a report out on Wednesday that the commission had not assessed if the strategy had achieved its goals.

"There are no baseline indicators or target indicators to measure how far the strategy objectives have been achieved and the commission had not yet evaluated the results of its actions as requested by the European parliament," said the report.

In response, the commission acknowledged that, and said that it planned to perform an evaluation of the strategy.

"Its actions have not yet been evaluated since they were completed only by early 2018, and therefore, the impact of all actions has not yet materialised," the commission said.

Improvements, but slowly

The report stated that there were "still some significant discrepancies between the animal welfare standards established in the EU legislation and the reality on the ground".

They audited the situation in Germany, France, Italy, Poland, and Romania.

"The member states visited generally followed the European Commission's recommendations, sometimes took a long time to address them," auditor Janusz Wojchiechowski told journalists in a briefing on Tuesday.

He did not want to say whether the commission should introduce a new animal welfare strategy.

"This is not our role, to suggest or recommend to have a new strategy," he noted.

The report stated that some of the measures announced in the 2012 strategy, like the publication of EU guidelines on the protection of animals during transport had been delayed by up to five years.

"The guidelines on pig welfare and on the protection of animals at slaughter were also delayed due to lengthy discussions with stakeholders," the report said.

"Most reports were based on external studies, which were sometimes delayed due to lack of staff at the commission to manage the procurement process and review draft content," it continued.

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