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IP/06/64

Brussels, 23 January 2006

Improving animal welfare: EU Action Plan adopted

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.

For more information, see: MEMO/06/21


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