Improving Animal Welfare: EU Action Plan

By the European Commission - Concrete measures to improve the protection and welfare of animals over the next five years are outlined in a new Action Plan on the protection and welfare of animals, adopted by the Commission today. The Action Plan aims to ensure that animal welfare is addressed in the most effective manner possible over the coming years, in all EU sectors and through EU relations with Third countries.
calendar icon 31 January 2006
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Animal Welfare Food Product Labelling: EU Action Plan - By the European Commission - Concrete measures to improve the protection and welfare of animals over the next five years are outlined in a new Action Plan on the protection and welfare of animals, adopted by the Commission today. The Action Plan aims to ensure that animal welfare is addressed in the most effective manner possible over the coming years, in all EU sectors and through EU relations with Third countries.

For the period 2006-2010, five main areas of action are set out to meet this objective: upgrading minimum standards for animal welfare; promoting research and alternative approaches to animal testing; introducing standardised animal welfare indicators; better informing animal handlers and the general public on animal welfare issues; and supporting international initiatives for the protection of animals. Detailed background on each area of action is outlined in the Action Plan, in the accompanying impact assessment and Commission working document, along with an indicative timetable for the planned initiatives.

Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said “The protection and welfare of animals is crucial, not least for ethical and moral reasons but also to ensure animal health and the quality of food. The Commission has drawn on detailed feedback from consumers, stakeholders, scientists and international organisations in developing this Action Plan, and over the next 5 years we intend to add to and upgrade existing animal welfare rules, so that EU standards remain amongst the highest in the world.”

The Action Plan, which was called for by the European Parliament and the Council, aims to clarify existing EU legislation on animal welfare, while putting forward proposals for areas where sufficient action is currently lacking. It also aims to ensure that full regard is paid to animal welfare in related policy fields such as agriculture, environmental policies, research and chemicals’ testing, in line with the Protocol on Protection and Welfare of Animals annexed to the EU Treaty. Future animal welfare policies will continue to be founded on the best available scientific advice, taking into account public expectations, socio-economic consequences and trade concerns. A Eurobarometer opinion poll (see IP/05/698) and an internet consultation by the Commission have revealed widespread public support for EU action on animal welfare.

Raising standards

The Action Plan proposes that current minimum standards for animal welfare be upgraded across the EU, in line with latest scientific information and public demand. It suggests expanding these minimum standards to include species currently not covered by EU provisions. Rules should also be designed to ensure proper application and enforcement of these standards.

Seeking new solutions

Well-targeted research is crucial for the development of effective policies to ensure the protection and welfare of animals, and the Action Plan advocates continued EU support for research projects in this field, with investigation into currently identified gaps in research. The possible establishment of a European Centre or Laboratory for animal welfare is proposed, as a potential reference point for the coordination, collection and exchange of information on research and activities related to animal welfare. The Action Plan pays great attention to the “3Rs” principle (replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in experiments) which the EU is applying to animal testing, and states that further research and support should be ensured to foster this principle.

Classifying standards

The Action Plan foresees a classification system for animal welfare practices, to differentiate between minimum standards applied and cases where even higher standards are used. It foresees setting up standardised indicators whereby production systems which apply higher animal welfare standards than the minimum standards get due recognition. The option of an EU label for animal welfare is put forward, to promote products obtained in line with certain animal welfare standards.

Informing and involving

Animal welfare can only be improved if those in direct contact with the animals are fully aware of the issues and their responsibilities with regard to the proper treatment of animals. For this reason, the Action Plan highlights the importance of training personnel involved in animal handling/keeping, while also proposing common initiatives, such as an Information Platform for Animal Welfare, to facilitate dialogue and the exchange of best practice. Equally important is informing EU consumers on animal welfare issues. By educating citizens on the various farming practices, and the costs and benefits of applying higher animal welfare standards, they will be able to make more informed purchasing decisions. The Action Plan suggests introducing improved marketing, labelling and communication strategies in order to meet this goal.

Promoting animal welfare internationally

The Commission will continue to support and initiate international initiatives to raise the awareness of animal welfare and try to create greater consensus on the issue. It will remain committed to working with international organisations such as the Council of Europe and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on the health and welfare of animals, while pressing for greater acceptance of animal welfare policies at World Trade Organization (WTO) level. The Action Plan states that the EU should continue to engage and assist developing countries in implementing animal welfare measures, while animal welfare standards should also be integrated into bilateral trade agreements where possible.

Questions and Answers on the Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals

What are the objectives of the Action Plan?

The overall aim of the Action Plan is to set out timetabled measures that will be taken by the Commission to promote animal welfare over the next 5 years. Taking into account experience already gained in this field, both at EU, international and national level, and considering discussions held with a wide spectrum of stakeholders and international organisations, the Commission has set out the following primary objectives for the Action Plan:

  • To give a clearer direction to EU animal welfare policies
  • To continue the promotion of high animal welfare standards
  • To provide better focus for the allocation of resources
  • To support future trends in animal welfare research
  • To continue to seek alternative solutions to animal testing
  • To ensure a more consistent and coordinated approach to animal welfare across all EU policy areas

What are the main initiatives to improve animal welfare foreseen in the Action Plan?

The Action Plan identifies 5 broad areas for action in the field of animal welfare for the 2006-2010 period:

  • Upgrading minimum standards for animal protection and welfare

  • Giving high priority to promoting policy-oriented research and the application of the “3Rs” principle (replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in experiments) to animal testing

  • Introducing standardised animal welfare indicators

  • Ensuring animal handlers and the general public are more involved and informed on animal welfare issues

  • Supporting and initiating further international initiatives to raise awareness of, and create greater consensus on, animal welfare

In a table annexed to the Action Plan, the Commission outlines planned specific actions to improve the protection and welfare of animals, some of which are already underway. These include: a proposal to update the current legislation on the inspection of farms (2006); work to establish a European Centre-Laboratory for animal welfare and a Community Reference Laboratory for the validation of alternative testing methods (2006); a revision of the existing rules on animal welfare at the time of slaughter and killing for disease control purposes (2007); the possible establishment of a European Quality Standard for products emanating from high animal welfare standards (2010).

What is proposed with regard to minimum standards for animal welfare?

Minimum general standards are already set for the protection and welfare of farm animals at EU level, with specific rules for certain species (see below). However, the Action Plan proposes that this legislation needs to be updated in line with latest scientific knowledge, practical experience and progress in international fora in advancing higher standards. It also suggests that the minimum standards should be extended to cover species and issues currently not adequately provided for under EU legislation. The Commission is also currently preparing a proposal to revise and update the existing legislation on the protection of animals used for experiments and other scientific purposes.

What is foreseen for research in this area?

The Action Plan clearly states that any measures taken in relation to animal welfare at EU level must be founded on a solid scientific basis, provided through research. Moreover, if there is a lack of information needed to develop appropriate policies, research should be prioritised to address this gap. The 7th EU Research Framework Programme (FP7), currently being finalised by the Commission and foreseen to run from 2007-2013, integrates animal welfare into its thematic action on Food, Agriculture and Biotechnology. Further consideration is given to animals used for research in 4 of the 9 themes: Health; Food, Agriculture and Biotechnology; Environment; and Nanosciences, nanotechnology, materials and new production technologies. Animal welfare related research is also being carried out by the Joint Research Centre, in particular with regard to the “3Rs”.

What would be the potential role of a new European Centre for the Protection and Welfare of Animals?

The Action Plan lays down the possibility for a European Centre or Laboratory for the protection and welfare of animals. This would have an important role in coordinating and stimulating research in the area of animal welfare, while also acting as a “centre of excellence” for the collection and exchange of information and best practice. The Centre could be involved in the setting up of the new animal welfare indicators and an EU label for animal welfare.

What action is proposed in relation to animal testing?

Around 10 million animals are used annually for research and testing, including tests on foods and medicines. Certain provision is made for the protection of experimental animals in EU Directive 86/609/EEC, but updated scientific information and increasing public concern on this issue have highlighted the need for stronger action in this area. The Commission is currently preparing a revision of this Directive to ensure that animals used in experimentation receive appropriate care and humane treatment. Furthermore in 1999, the EU became party to the Council of Europe Convention on the protection of vertebrate animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes which is also preparing recommendations on this issue.

An integral part of the Commission’s approach to the use of animals in experiments and research is the “3Rs” principle – replacement, reduction and refinement of animal use. The latest initiative in this area has been the “3Rs Declaration” agreed by the Commission and industry in November 2005. This Declaration was the starting point of a European partnership in which all stakeholders will seek concrete future actions to reduce animal testing and look for alternatives.

The new Action Plan gives particular focus to the implementation of this agreement, and a first progress report on the Partnership will be published at the end of 2006.

Why does the Action Plan advocate standardised indicators for animal welfare?

Standardised indicators for animal welfare would create a more level playing field for producers across the EU, and respond to the growing market demand for evidence of sustainably derived products. At the moment, certain national laws and voluntary schemes are going beyond the EU minimum standards for animal welfare, while all EU producers must adhere to standards which may be higher than those applied in some Third countries. A system of indicators which acknowledges that these standards have been met or exceeded would encourage continued improvement of animal welfare conditions and provide consumers with more information on the added value of animal welfare in the final product.

What would be the added value of an EU animal welfare label?

An EU label for animal welfare would allow for the better promotion of products which have been produced in line with animal welfare requirements, and a differentiation between those obtained with basic mandatory animal welfare standards and those with higher standards. It would also compensate to some extent for the competitive pressures faced by EU producers in the increasingly globalised agricultural market, where animal welfare obligations are extremely divergent.

A clear label identifying the level of welfare applied could prove an effective marketing tool, and improve the information available to consumers in the EU and internationally when making purchase choices. A recently published Eurobarometer survey showed that 74% of consumers believe they can improve animal welfare through their shopping choices, and over half of all consumers surveyed stated that they would be willing to pay more for animal welfare-friendly food products. However, the poll also revealed that consumers found such products difficult to identify. An EU animal welfare label would help to address this problem.

What has already been done on animal welfare at EU level?

The first legislation on animal welfare at EU level was adopted in 1974, dealing with the protection of animals at the time of slaughter (subsequently updated with Directive 93/119/EEC). Since then a considerable body of EU legislation related to the treatment of animals has built up. With regard to farm animals, general minimum standards for their protection have been set out in Directive 98/58/EC. These rules reflect the “Five Freedoms” i.e. freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress.

Additional specific rules are provided for calves, pigs and laying hens, and in 2005 the Commission adopted a proposal for a Council Directive on the welfare of broiler chickens. Updated rules on the welfare of animals in transport were already agreed in November 2004, which clarify responsibility for the protection of animals throughout the whole transport chain, provide for better standards for the environment in which animals are transported, and set stricter conditions when it comes to journeys of more than 8 hours.

What is the Protocol on Protection and Welfare of Animals annexed to the EU Treaty?

The legally binding Protocol on Protection and Welfare of Animals, annexed to the EU Treaty, recognises that animals are sentient beings. It states, therefore, that full regard should be paid to animal welfare concerns when formulating or implementing policies relating to agriculture, transport, research and the internal market. This will be done while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and religious heritage

What provision is made for the protection of animals in EU agriculture policy?

The 2003 reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) saw a number of measures introduced to promote the better handling and treatment of animals. The cross-compliance principle, whereby farmers must meet certain standards in order to receive CAP payments, covers animal welfare standards, while extra support will be given to agricultural practices which go beyond required animal welfare practices under EU Rural Development policies. There are measures to provide financial assistance to farmers in adapting to meet EU standards on animal health, while economic support is also given to those who participate in food quality schemes (including schemes based on high animal welfare). A new proposal on organic farming sets out that the highest level of animal welfare must be observed in organic production.

What provision is made for the protection of animals in EU environmental policy?

Since the 1980s, EU environmental policies have included measures to promote the improvement of animal welfare. These cover, amongst other things, trapping standards, trade in wildlife, keeping zoo animals, the import of seal pup skins and the protection of natural habitats.

Are fish covered by animal welfare legislation?

Information on the sentience of fish has gradually accumulated over recent years. As a result, the Council of Europe has already drawn up recommendations on the treatment of farmed fish, while the World Organisation on Animal Health (OIE) is also preparing welfare guidelines for farmed fish. At EU level, the Common Fisheries Policy includes a strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture which has highlighted the need to improve the welfare of farmed fish. In August 2005, the Commission put forward a draft Directive to improve the health of aquaculture animals.

Will the Commission ban the use of cat and dog fur in the EU?

The Commission is currently looking into ways to ban the trade of cat and dog fur in the EU, for ethical reasons and in response to considerable public concerns on this issue. There are many legal issues to address before such a ban could be put in place, but the Commission is hopeful that a European solution can be found in the near future.

Who is responsible for checking that animal welfare standards are met?

National authorities must make sure that rules on animal welfare are respected by all animal handlers and keepers. The EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) carries out inspections to verify that the EU legislation is properly implemented and enforced. Under the Action Plan, training for national authorities responsible for controlling animal welfare standards is foreseen, in addition to training already undertaken at the national level. Third country representatives, particularly those from developing countries, will also be invited to participate in this training.

How has the Commission promoted better animal welfare at the international level?

The European Commission works closely with international organisations with the aim of boosting animal protection and welfare worldwide, and supports work in this regard by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE: 167 member countries) and the Council of Europe (45 member countries). The EU is party to various Council of Europe Conventions for the protection of animals used for experimentation, farm animals and the protection of animals during transport and slaughter. The EU has also started to incorporate animal welfare into multilateral and bilateral agreements with Third countries (e.g. Chile and Canada).

What problems are faced at international level in terms of animal welfare?

There is little international consensus on the importance of animal welfare and standards applied across the world are greatly divergent. In the globalised market, competitive distortions can arise from differences in legislation on animal welfare standards, as it requires more resources to ensure the proper treatment of animals. In 2002, the EU submitted a Communication to the World Trade Organization (WTO), stating that in raising animal welfare issues at international level, the EU was not seeking to create new trade barriers, but to ensure that trade does not undermine efforts to promote animal welfare or put the EU at a competitive disadvantage due to its higher demands.

What does the Action Plan foresee for the promotion of better animal welfare standards internationally?

The Action Plan foresees the continued support of the EU for OIE and Council of Europe initiatives to raise the standards of animal welfare internationally. It also proposes closer cooperation between the EU and countries who apply high animal welfare standards, in order to develop relationships with national authorities and stakeholders involved and build up a bloc of international consensus on welfare standards.

How does the EU assist exporting Developing countries in meeting EU animal welfare standards?

Third country representatives can already partake in EU training courses organised for Member States’ competent authorities on implementing EU animal welfare rules. The Commission has also taken part in trade related technical assistance (TRTA) projects with Developing countries, for example helping their experts to attend meetings on international standard-setting, and sending EU technical experts to Developing countries.

Further Information

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Source: European Commission - January 2006

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