Animal welfare has become increasingly important for European consumers. In Western Europe, for example, animal welfare claims account for 13% of all ethically labelled products, according to Euromonitor International. This far outweighs the 1% of claims in the US.
The UK and Germany are the largest markets for animal welfare, accounting for 70% of value sales in the processed meat and meat substitutes category. Denmark, according to the market research firm’s 2018 figures, is the fastest-growing market.
In response to growing demand for higher welfare standards, the European Commission adopted the EU Strategy for Protection and Welfare of Animals in 2012. According to the Commission, the strategy defined key objectives and actions with the ‘ultimate aim’ being to enhance the welfare of animals in Europe, while ‘ensuring fair competition’ and ‘empowering EU consumers’ to make animal welfare-friendly choices.
Nine years on, has the strategy – which ran from 2012-2015 (with some actions being delivered up to 2018) – achieved its goals? An evaluation undertaken by the Commission suggests compliance challenges hindered the scheme from realizing all objectives.
Is the strategy still relevant?
Specifically, the evaluation sought to assess the strategy’s effectiveness, efficiency, and EU added value. It also aimed to judge the strategy’s current relevance, given ongoing developments in the area.
The Commission plans to feed these results into its ongoing evaluation of EU animal welfare legislation, which could help inform potential future initiatives under its Farm to Fork strategy.
The EU Strategy for Protection and Welfare of Animals 2012-2015 is based on two complementary approaches.
Firstly, as the Commission noted that some common problems need to be tackled in a ‘different’ and ‘holistic’ manner, it planned to consider the need for a revised EU legislative framework based on a holistic approach.
Secondly, the Commission committed to reinforcing or ‘better using’ certain actions. These included:
- Developing tools, including where relevant implementing plans, to strengthen Member States’ compliance;
- Supporting international cooperation;
- Providing consumers and the public with appropriate information;
- Optimise synergistic effects from current Common Agriculture Policy; and
- Investigating the welfare of farmed fish.
Findings revealed that most problems and drivers identified by the strategy back in 2012 continue to be relevant today. These include the need to improve compliance across Member States – particularly in certain risk areas, such as animal transport and some stunning methods.
What has changed, quite significantly, is consumer interest towards animal welfare. “Considering the increasing interest among EU citizens towards animal welfare, the objective to provide consumers and the public with appropriate information has become even more relevant today than it was in 2012,” noted the Commission.
Similarly, the need to strengthen international cooperation, to encourage third country adoption of standards comparable to those within the EU, has also increased.
Further, the Commission observed a need to ‘further optimise’ synergies with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period 2021-27 to improve animal welfare standards in animal husbandry and increase CAP beneficiaries’ awareness of animal welfare requirements.
‘Objectives not fully achieved’
On a positive note, the strategy was found to contribute to setting common priorities the Commission said led to improvements on animal welfare across the bloc.
It also helped improve knowledge and sharing of best practices, and contributed to the enforcement of EU law in areas as such the group housing of sows and the protection of laying hens.
However, “none of the strategy’s objectives has been fully achieved”, noted the Commission.
The strategy failed, for example, to deliver on the objective of introducing a simplified EU legislative framework on animal welfare, the Commission continued.
It also had a ‘limited contribution’ to informing consumers on animal welfare and optimisation of synergies with the CAP. “Informing consumers on animal welfare has become an objective even more important today than at the time of adoption of the strategy.”
From animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming’s (CIWF) perspective, the evaluation indicates the EU needs to more.
“The evaluation clearly points to flaws in the implementation of the strategy,” Olga Kikou, Head of CIWF EU told FoodNavigator. “Even considering the admittedly low ambition of the strategy, the EU’s evaluation concludes that none of the strategy’s objectives has been fully achieved.
“The EU clearly needs to do more – not just in implementing the strategy but in pursuing more ambitious and effective measures to improve animal welfare.”
‘EU needs to take a tougher stance’
Going forward, the EU needs to take a ‘tougher stance’ to protect farmed animals, learn from this evaluation, and develop more effective tools to achieve its goals, said Kikou.
Animal welfare labelling could be one such tool. This would be dependent, however, on the labelling providing an ‘honest indication’ of how animals are kept, and the scheme being mandatory, we were told.
“This can be achieved by a mandatory ‘method of production’ labelling, which indicates whether the animal has been farmed in an intensive or an alternative system – similar to the EU’s mandatory labels for eggs.
Consumers have the right to make informed choices and to know which systems animals have been raised in, the EU charity head stressed. “However, at the moment, EU Member States do not show much ambition to have a meaningful label.
“Quite to the contrary. Discussions by EU Member States indicate that any label that can be adopted may mislead consumers, rather than give them the ability to make informed choices.”