Organic standards review swerves animal welfare changes

By Chloe Ryan

- Last updated on GMT

The European Parliament had prioritised business as usual over animal welfare, said Eurogroup for Animals
The European Parliament had prioritised business as usual over animal welfare, said Eurogroup for Animals

Related tags Organic farming Animal welfare Sustainable agriculture Agriculture

Organic standards in Europe will not be tightened up to include more stringent animal welfare requirements, following a vote yesterday by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.

Instead, the committee of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted to focus on ensuring higher sustainability criteria and stricter food fraud checks to boost trust in the EU organic label. They introduced measures to avoid contamination of organic food, including on mixed organic and conventional farms, and endorsed plans to help small farmers turn organic.

A two-day meeting of the committee on 12 and 13 October considered proposals for new EU regulations on organic farming. There had been proposals to make animal welfare a central part of the standards – including requiring anaesthesia for painful procedures.

Prior to the vote, one of the amendments in the draft European Parliament legislative resolution stated: “Attaching elastic bands to the tails of sheep and tail-docking may be authorised by the competent authority for reasons of safety or animal and human health or if they are intended to improve the health, welfare or hygiene of the livestock. Dehorning of young mammals should be approved only if adequate anaesthesia and analgesia are applied.​”

Food fraud

However, the committee decided priority should be given to preventing food fraud. “We know that all this will only work in practice if all operators involved take responsibility to make organic farming work better​,” said Green MEP Martin Häusling, who will lead Parliament’s negotiating team during the talks with the European Council on the final wording of the new organic law.

The agriculture committee said organic farming required a tailored controls regime along the entire chain to avoid food fraud. This included at least an annual, physical, on-site check on all organic farms. “Member states should also ensure the traceability of each product at all stages of production, preparation and distribution to give guarantees to consumers that the organic products they buy are truly organic​,” said the committee.

MEPs also introduced new precautionary measures to increase the accountability of operators throughout the organic supply chain and avoid the use of unauthorised techniques. If the EU’s organic production rules are breached or the presence of, for example, an unauthorised pesticide is suspected, the final product should not bear the organic label until further investigations have been completed. The product can only be sold as an organic product if it is clear, after proper examination, that the contamination was unavoidable and the organic farmer had applied all the precautionary measures.

The committee also voted to scrap the Commission's plans to do away with mixed farms - that is, farms producing both conventional and organic food - on condition that their conventional farming activities were clearly separated and differentiated from organic farming ones. They also backed group certification for small farmers to make their lives easier and attract more of them into the organic farming business.


However, animal welfare groups expressed disappointment that mooted changes to improve conditions for farm animals will not be included in the new regulations.  

Initially this was a legislative review that held much promise for addressing widespread shortcomings in EU organic legislation, affecting millions of farm animals​,” said Reineke Hameleers, director at Eurogroup for Animals. “But this outcome shows that even the Parliament, which has been a forerunner of supporting animal welfare improvements, has prioritised business as usual in the food chain at the expense of animal welfare, with potentially long-term risks for maintaining consumer confidence in organic animal products.

Sadly, short term interests are being prioritised at the expense of animals, and unfortunately these instances have now become the norm across most sectors​,” Hameleers added. “The revision of the organic legislation had the potential to stop painful practices like tethering and mutilations on organic farms and to decrease transport times for organically raised farm animals; these major concerns have now not been adequately tackled by the Parliament.​”

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