Eurogroup for Animals discusses priorities until 2020

Written by Sophie Bolla on 16 March 2016 in EU Monitoring
EU Monitoring

On Tuesday, senior political and civil society representatives debated the Joint Declaration on Animal Welfare initiated by several Agricultural Ministers in December 2014.

Janusz Wojciechowski (ECR, PL) ,President of the EP Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, welcomed all guests on behalf the animal welfare intergroup.

He explained that the animal intergroup is one of the most successful intergroups in the European Parliament this term as it is convening 110 MEPs which shows that dedication to animals is binding people together from all backgrounds. This success has resulted in two adopted resolutions on a new animal welfare strategy and the harmonisation of identification and registration requirements for pet animals. Both resolutions were adopted with the support of the whole European Parliament. The activity is also a strong contribution to improve reports adopted in the Parliament. On the dossier of animal health and animal transport, there were contributions of the intergroup with amendments to improve the text. The intergroup welcomed the initiative of some Member States to improve animal welfare and supported the declaration of Vught and the declaration of Copenhagen on pig welfare.

He concluded by quoting Ghandi who said that the level of a civilisation and its moral progress can be judged on how animals are treated.

Reineke Hameleers, Director Eurogroup for Animals, welcomed all guests. She explained that this meeting was the result of the strong commitment of several governments to take seriously citizens’ desire to respect animal welfare. She applauded this. The declarations, including the position paper on transport, show what is at stake in Europe and how committed these Member States are. These declarations and the underlying push for change must be taken seriously throughout the EU.

The cross border nature of many aspects of animal welfare is important. The Eurogroup for animals believes that an EU strong leadership on animal welfare is indispensable. The EU barometer of 2006 indicated that 8 out of 10 EU citizens see animal welfare as a matter of great importance. Farm animal welfare should be improved, she said, noting that there are signs that the new barometer will show it has become even more important. She expected this new barometer soon.

In times of growing alienation and distrust to the EU, animal welfare can help to connect with citizens and to show them that Europe can drive positive change. Timmermans noted that during its laureate speech. “The Commission must not be seen as stuck inside the EU bubble”. Her organisation believes that there is every reason for the EU to take up the issue of animal welfare and to use it to connect with Europeans. The EU has proven that it is able to address EU citizens’ concerns by already increasing animal welfare in farms. Animals are also considered sentient beings since the Lisbon Treaty. Europe has the ability to establish higher animal welfare in the world, she said, noting that there have been lots of good results. However, she noted that in the last 6 years, progress has stopped all together.

She observed three worrying trends:

- An inadequate implementation of the current legislation

- Failings to incorporate new scientific findings

- An increased pressure to improve competitiveness in the farming sector which is difficult to do while protect animal welfare.

This stagnation means that tail docking of pigs which is banned since 1994 is still going on in some Member States. There is the same situation with pig castration. 37 million animals are also transported in horrible conditions and there are still inadequate stunning methods used too. She added that a large number of species are left by the wayside such as rabbits, geese, ducks and dairy cows. The trade of exotic pet animal is booming because there are different rules within the EU. Animals in farming, research and trade are prevented from displaying their natural behaviour which is disrespecting citizens’ call to protect animals.

Animal welfare is not a standalone issue, she added, saying that it is connected with other EU competences. There is a clear link between the CAP and animal welfare. 40% of the EU budget is spent on the CAP so it provides the opportunity to invest in better animal welfare. The cross-border nature of animal welfare and challenges require action from the EU Commission, she also said.

The Vught declaration, she explained, calls for the restriction of the journey time, the phasing out of non-therapeutic mutilation, legislation for all farms and companion animals, better information for consumers and animal welfare requirements in trade agreement. There is also clear support for a phase out of surgical mutilation of piglets and improvement of the pig welfare directive.

Given the urgency of the situation, this should start as soon as possible, she argued. The EU project is under intense scrutiny and its foundations are being tested. One can say that animal welfare is a luxury but this would be a mistake. Animal welfare provides the EU with the means to connect with EU citizens and to show the real value of EU action.  

Martijn van Dam, Minister for Agriculture of The Netherlands, explained that a few decades ago farming and animal husbandry were simple affairs but this has changed. This change brought many good things but the current food system is not future proof, he said, explaining that in 3 decades, farmers will have to feed 9 billion people. To make a real and lasting change, the EU needs to shift from a supply oriented system to a demand led one. The demands are pretty clear: more safety, transparency and better treatment of animals. A transition to a more innovative and sustainable production system is needed. Hens, pigs and cows are not a production unit but sentient beings.

He said that the current system values efficiency more than animal welfare. In the Netherlands, he is pleased about what the agrifood sector has done to have more animal welfare. They introduced innovative husbandry approaches as well as a labelling scheme.

A new strategy is needed at the EU level, he added. The previous one has achieved good results. A number of Member States have managed to implement rules on time, others have not. He then called the Commission to put forward a new strategy.

Following this, he put forward 5 suggestions of what this new strategy could look like:

- Legislation and regulation should conform to the latest scientific data.

- Transport of live animals of more than 8 hours should be banned

- Mutilation of animals should be minimised

- New EU legislation should be drafted on animals that are now not protected by any texts (rabbit)

- An EU platform for animal welfare should be created.  

Talking about imports from outside of the EU, he said that the Commission needs to make sure trade agreements do not hamper European efforts.

Concluding, he said that efforts have yielded results but a lot more needs to be done. He wants to see a world in which the EU continues to uphold the best standard.

Please click here to read the full speech of Minister Martijn van Dam. 

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Sophie is a consultant at Dods EU Monitoring

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