Thursday

27th Jan 2022

Opinion

Public support grows for EU 'commissioner for animals'

  • The lack of prominence given to animal welfare in DG SANTE is symbolised by the delegation of this responsibility to an office in charge of antimicrobial resistance – as if animal welfare were some kind of veterinary therapy (Photo: taxzi)
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As EU Commission representatives are now openly admitting, over the last two decades the commitment of their predecessors to animal welfare was inadequate or completely absent, largely consisting of reassuring but empty words.

We are now keeping a hopeful eye on the efforts being made to revise, update and integrate the EU legislation on animal welfare. Being realistic, however, we must acknowledge that these positive steps are being taken across thin ice.

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We should also bear in mind that in 2024, after the next European elections, a new EU Commission will take over. If nothing changes, that Commission's attitude to animal welfare will determine whether this topic continues to receive the attention that it deserves – and that is demanded by EU citizens – or is sidelined and forgotten again.

The way animals are treated in the EU and the impact that European decisions have on the rest of the world are too important to be left in this fog of uncertainty. Long-term plans – which are so vital in this context – cannot reasonably be made if it remains unclear whether interest and resources will continue in the near future.

The good news is that something can be done to dispel the uncertainty. Indeed, it must be done if the present commitments are to be preserved and, when necessary, updated.

Over the last few months, more than 140,000 citizens and 152 MEPs have joined the #EUforAnimals campaign, demanding that more prominence be given to animal welfare by making the responsibility for it explicit in the name of the relevant directorate-general and in the job title of the competent EU commissioner.

In the present context, the commissioner's responsibility would become for "health, food safety and animal welfare".

This massive cross-party and international political support has led to the preparation of an oral question, which was tabled on 10 January and supported by the largest number of MEPs in many years.

An oral question can be tabled by a parliamentary committee, a political group or a minimum of 36 MEPs.

In this case, over 110 MEPs have joined Danish S&D MEP Niels Fuglsang in asking the EU commission if it is planning to respond positively to this proposal and, if so, what procedures aimed at implementing it have been activated.

Oral questions can be transformed by the conference of presidents of the parliamentary groups into resolutions. Given the unprecedented number of supporters, this is what its promoters expect.

More than two-thirds public support

In June 2021, an Ipsos survey showed that 69 percent of EU citizens think that there should be a European Commissioner for Animal Welfare.

If we compare this figure with the support for a Commissioner for Sports (45 percent), we can see that the proposal of the #EUforAnimals campaign and of the related oral question represents the essential next step for the EU institutions in showing their commitment to animal welfare.

Failing to respond positively to this demand would not only show a disregard for citizens' opinions but also a lack of concern as to whether the legislative acts that will be approved in the coming months will be properly implemented in the future.

GAIA decided to invest in the coordination of this campaign – now supported by over 40 groups across the EU – to ensure that concrete actions will continue to match the ambitious statements that many politicians are generously making in favour of animal welfare.

The lack of prominence currently given to animal welfare in the work of DG SANTE is symbolised by the delegation of this responsibility to an office that is also in charge of antimicrobial resistance – as if animal welfare were some kind of veterinary therapy.

A change of attitude is long overdue. Animals have been recognised as sentient beings in EU treaties for over 20 years, but the institutional placement of this responsibility still categorises them as agricultural products. Currently, the welfare of animals is protected only where it does not clash with certain private economic interests.

This attitude is anachronistic and counterproductive. It is also far removed from the ethics of European citizens.

Having an EU Commissioner for Health, Food Safety and Animal Welfare would guarantee that there are adequate resources for this topic and that a specific Directorate would deal with both its ethical and its scientific aspects. It would also ensure that the EU institutions would be more transparent and accountable when they deal with this issue.

Raising the level of ambition in this way would have an influence on the international trade relations of EU countries, offering European farmers better defences against the import of cheaper, low-welfare animal products.

MEPs and citizens have made their views clear. It is now up to the EU commission to join them by responding positively to this call for a genuine, consistent and lasting commitment to improving animal welfare in the EU and beyond.

Author bio

Michel Vandenbosch is president of the Belgian-based Global Action in the Interests of Animals (GAIA) campaign group.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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