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Brussels, 19 January 2012

Questions and Answers on the Animal Welfare Strategy 2012-2015

Why a new EU strategy on animal welfare?

Over the years it has become increasingly clear that simply applying the same sector specific rules to animal welfare does not always yield the desired results.

Problems of compliance to sector specific rules pointed to the need to reflect on whether a "one size fits all" approach can lead to better welfare outcomes across the Union. The diversity of farming systems, climatic conditions, land realities in the different Member States have led to considerable difficulties in agreeing on unitary rules and even more difficulties in ensuring their correct implementation.

The end result is an uneven playing field as far as animal welfare conditions are concerned. A level playing field is essential to sustain the economic activity linked to the treatment of animals in the EU. In addition, and more importantly, the real welfare of animals across the Union cannot be guaranteed.

Finally, although the animal welfare agenda has been advanced though specific pieces of legislation, important gaps where no legislation exist remain. A comprehensive approach would help to address the underlying problems.

Who will benefit from the new Strategy?

All of us.

As citizens and consumers we care about animals and want them to be well treated. Consumer surveys indicate that EU consumers are concerned about animal welfare when they buy food. The Animal Welfare Strategy will contribute to the improvement information to consumers, retailers, food services and food processors on animal welfare through the development a transparent tool for claims on animal welfare certification schemes.

Commercial sectors dealing with animals, in particular farmers, will also benefit because the strategy will provide them with tools to better innovate and promote their actions on animal welfare.

Currently, there are few certification schemes specifically addressing animal welfare issues1. The Strategy suggests considering the development of a tool for increasing transparency and adequacy of information to consumers for their purchase choice.

What changes compared to the existing Strategy (2006-2010)?

There are several common elements. A number of previous initiatives need to be reinforced. So, the Commission will:

  • Support Member States and take action to improve compliance with animal welfare rules;

  • Support international cooperation;

  • Provide consumers and the public with appropriate information;

  • Optimise synergies with the Common Agriculture Policy;

  • Investigate on the welfare of certain species like farmed fish, in line with the initiatives laid down in the Commission Aquaculture Strategy and by exploring the possibilities offered in the context of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

However, a number of common problems can not be addressed through the sector specific legislation and need a more comprehensive approach. This is why the Commission will consider the adoption of a general animal welfare legislative framework. It will:

  • Increase transparency of animal welfare claims;

  • Focus requirements on the results for the animals;

  • Improve education for people handling animals.

Who is responsible for what?

The Commission will develop the actions foreseen in the strategy in the forthcoming years. However, a number of actions will need the involvements of stakeholders, Member States and other EU institutions like the European Parliament.

In particular regarding a general animal welfare framework, the Commission will consider a legal proposal but the final adoption of the law will depend on the European Parliament and the Council. Similarly, compliance with EU legislation is primarily under the responsibility of the Member States. The Commission can provide tools to improve their efficiency but can not replace them.

Are any measures against third countries not complying with the rules foreseen?

The competitiveness of EU producers is one of the key objectives of the Commission's policy on animal welfare. There is no point in improving EU welfare standards if it has the effect of increasing imports from third countries with lower standards.

For this reason, the strategy will emphasize the importance of developing within the EU a flexible system of rules. Simultaneously, EU values towards animals will be promoted abroad. Also, even more is to be done on the international level. Since 2000, the EU has invested increasing resources to develop international standards on animal welfare and supported the relevant work of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE). 

When will foreseen actions be applied?

The strategy is comprised of a list of actions that will come gradually into effect from 2012 to 2015. For example, in 2012 the Commission will set up an implementation plan on the grouping of sows. In 2013, it will publish guidelines on the protection of pigs. Specific studies on the welfare of farmed fish during transport and at slaughter will be completed in the next two years. In 2014 it will consider and possibly prepare a proposal for a general EU animal welfare legislative framework.

To what extend does the Strategy takes into account the 2010 European Parliament resolution?

The strategy includes all key elements suggested by the European Parliament and in particular:

  • focus on better enforcement of the current EU legislation;

  • further actions to ensure fair conditions of competition for EU farmers;

  • the adoption of a general EU animal welfare law;

  • establishing a European Network of Reference Centres for animal welfare;

  • the use of scientifically-validated animal welfare indicators;

  • better communication to consumers on animal welfare claims.

  • consideration on the relevance of sector-specific initiatives, such as for farmed fish, through specific studies on the welfare of fish during transport and at time of killing  

Do you plan to introduce compulsory labelling on animal welfare for all animal products?

An EU system of compulsory labelling on animal welfare exists for table eggs. The system for eggs is based on the EU legislation for laying hens defining different production methods (cages, free range, barn, etc.). Such classification of production methods does not exist for other types of animal production in the EU.

The strategy does not plan to extend beyond eggs the compulsory labelling on animal welfare.

Instead, the strategy is oriented towards considering the development of an instrument to better inform consumers and companies on animal welfare friendly products that could be used by both producers and retailers, ensuring a transparency to consumers without overflowing them with information on the label.  

What will the Network of reference centres do?

The objective of the network is to use the current research structure of the Member States to improve their financing and their mutual cooperation throughout Europe. It will not duplicate the work done by the Member States or the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The network will also aim at better disseminating research results through assistance, communication and education initiatives. It will not replace the work of the competent authorities but will provide technical assistance in implementing legislation. The network will also help stakeholders in finding concrete and local solutions to difficulties in improving some welfare problems in farms.

Are there plans to legislate on the welfare of dogs and cats?

No, the Commission does not envisage such legislation now, but if deemed necessary it will take specific measures for cats and dogs. Having said this, the Commission envisages, in the framework of the new Strategy, to collect more data and opinions on the issue and consider whether action is necessary.

In November 2010, the Council adopted conclusions where it asked the Commission to consider the question of dogs and cats. The Council pointed out possible problems where the EU could have a say. However, these have to be properly evaluated, since there is no consensus among the Member States on the different actions at EU-level. Some Member States advocate for harmonising certain welfare conditions for the keeping and selling dogs and cats for commercial purposes. There is also some interest in consolidating at EU level current systems of registration and identification of dogs.

See also IP/11/28

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