EU sets out new animal welfare strategy

By Arabella Mileham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Animal welfare European union European commission Livestock

EU sets out new animal welfare strategy
The European Union (EU) is launching a new strategy for animal welfare, as it says the current uniform approach has caused varying levels of compliance across member states that has not guaranteed the real welfare of animals, and has caused economic and competitive inequalities for members states.

The Animal Welfare Strategy 2012-15, announced today, comes after a 20-year evaluation into welfare policy. It claims to be wide-reaching and comprehensive, and the European Commission (EC) hopes it will plug the gaps of the existing legislation, gradually introducing policies over the five-year period to raise standards.

Although diversity of farming systems, climates and environments have made it difficult to both determine and implement effective rules, the EU said it remained committed to increasing the overall standards of animal welfare. A two-pronged strategy has therefore been determined – to both enforce the current legislation and also to build an overall legislation framework, which would cover all animals with regard to welfare. It lays out a timeline of actions and studies, which the EU will investigate, including considering a proposal to simplify EU legislation in 2014.

However, animal welfare organisation Eurogroup for Animals has condemned the strategy, calling it "wishy-washy"​ and a missed opportunity to regulate areas where animals are suffering by concentrating too much on “soft policy tools”​, which include training and communication. It said the strategy concentrated too much on farm animals, but still failed to address consumer concerns, such as live animal transport and issues of animal cloning.

A spokesman for Eurogroup for Animals said: “We’d like some very clear legislative proposals. We’re glad that it recognises enforcement is not being done, but we’d like to see them put more resources into this and actually show how they are going to do it.”

He also claimed the strategy lacked any clear policy alignment or coherence in relation to other policy legislation. He said: “It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table that will show the link between animal welfare and improving the contribution towards the sustainable development of environmental improvement and human health. It doesn’t say how it will integrate with a whole host of other legislation where animal health will be impacted on.”

Sonja Van Tichelen, director of Eurogroup for Animals, said: “We are extremely alarmed that, despite there being no evidence that EU animal welfare polices have undermined the competitiveness of EU producers, the EC has listened to the industry and farming lobby and ignored the concerns of Europe’s citizens and the European Parliament, as well as the animal welfare sector. The Commission is, in effect, bringing policy development to a standstill.”

The strategy claims that in order to ensure EU producers remain competitive against countries with lower standards, it will embrace a flexible system of rules, while promoting the EU’s welfare values on the international stage.

As well as enforcing greater compliance of existing rules and supporting member states, the new strategy also plans to improve the transparency of animal welfare claims, particularly those made by certification schemes. It has already confirmed that it will not introduce a compulsory welfare labelling system, but will work towards the introduction of a tool to inform retailers, consumers and producers of the welfare of products.

It also said it would concentrate on rebalancing the focus towards the actual outcome and conditions for the animals, while improving the education of animal handling for those involved in this type of work.

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