Ministers call for EU animal welfare platform

Written by Erik Tate on 16 February 2016 in EU Monitoring
EU Monitoring

Agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday expressed their broad support for establishing an EU platform on animal welfare.

On February 15, national agriculture ministers held a debate on a position paper of the German, Swedish, Danish and the Netherlands delegations calling for the establishment of an EU platform on animal welfare. Member States broadly supported the establishment of such a platform, which could promote information sharing and the exchange of best practices. However, some stressed the need to implement existing legislation and to safeguard a level playing field in international negotiations. The Council took note of the Commission’s intentions to prepare the establishment of such a platform and welcomed steps to bring this forward. Please find a summary of the discussion below:

The German representative explained that at the end of 2014, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands agreed to work together closely in the area of animal protection, with Sweden joining in April 2015. They have four joint papers which were made to the Commission and all should have had the opportunity to see these. These are about having better cooperation and better standards.

These are also at the heart of the current proposal, which seeks to strengthen dialogue on animal protection and welfare on the European level and to develop it beyond. They are proposing having an EU animal welfare platform, a bit like what already exists for health and nutrition. This platform would allow for the exchange of experience with a view to animal welfare initiatives, facilitate the exchange of information for the implementation of legislation, and allow for a more transparent way of working.

The platform should promote animal welfare throughout the EU, with a focus on four goals:

  1. Having a coordinated approach to involve various aspects of society, so that these discussions can take place on an objective and scientific basis
  2. Allowing different groups to be more able to work together
  3. Having the exchange of best practices
  4. Cultivating context with regard to information and discoveries in research

The joint goal is to improve societies’ acceptance of animal welfare and increase the value added in sales of animal protection. There should be equal opportunities in the internal market and guarantee jobs throughout the whole production chain, thereby supporting animal protection and animal welfare. The platform would be a very useful instrument for the Member States, supporting them in their efforts and allowing useful work to be done without great expenditure.

These four countries are therefore asking the Commission if such a platform could be set up and inviting all Member States to subscribe to this initiative. This would then feature as part of the Commission’s agenda on animal welfare. Animal welfare is not simply something they should talk about among themselves, he said, but is something that should be talked about in the public domain.

The Swedish representative said that cooperation is very important at all levels in the whole area of animal welfare. A platform on animal welfare would allow stakeholders to share their experiences and offer an important contribution to improving animal welfare. This is an area in which EU producers can demonstrate an added value and get better pay for their production, he added. He also shared the Commission’s view that implementation of existing legislation and the monitoring of this continues to be very important.

The Danish representative said that there is a need for improving animal welfare in Europe and that this is a good way to move forward. They face welfare challenges not only with farm animals but also with pets, she noted, so this platform will be able to discuss both kinds. This is about the better implementation of existing legislation, ensuring uniform control and the exchange of best practices. This should allow them to improve animal welfare in the EU and provide a more level playing field. Animal welfare is also an important parameter for European agriculture, she said, and could allow European farmers to achieve a higher price for their products. However, there needs to be a discussion about the best way for moving forward.

Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, thanked the four countries for their timely initiative on a topic that elicits strong feelings among their citizens. The animal welfare strategy, which was adopted in 2012 and expired in 2015, reflected the broad scope of animal welfare through its guiding principle of “everyone is responsible”. This means everyone from primary producers right through to the final consumer. The objectives in this strategy remain valid beyond 2015, he said.

The Commission’s priority is to ensure that all of the remaining actions from the EU animal welfare strategy will be completed by 2017. Animal welfare remains an important issue for the Commission, but several actions under the strategy remain incomplete. It is therefore his “firm intention” to finalise these unfinished items, six of which will be completed in the first half of 2016. Some of these actions are close to completion or have recently been completed, such as a study on the welfare of dogs and cats in relation to commercial practices, to be published soon, as well as another on education and information activities on animal welfare.

There is also the report to the European Parliament and the Council, which was recently adopted by the Commission, on systems restraining bovine animals. Other deliverables covered in the strategy are close to being finalised, including the long-awaited guidelines on the welfare of pigs. Information taken from Eurobarometer on the attitudes of Europeans towards animal welfare will help them to understand how to improve the welfare of animals in the EU, and to find ways forward.

The key challenge is the make sure that the current laws in place are correctly implemented. The Commission will focus on strengthening the enforcement of existing rules, proper implementation of controls and on enhancing the stakeholder dialogue. It will also work on having a more coherent approach and promote animal welfare standards in the international arena. Building an enhanced dialogue with stakeholders, not least to reflect the wide range of actors and interests influencing the quality of animal welfare in Europe, would reflect a positive area of work.

The Commission has already taken steps to facilitate regular exchanges with stakeholders. Possible future actions will be discussed in the forthcoming meetings on 23-24 February with stakeholders and Member States’ experts. Animal welfare remains an area of high importance for the Commission and it remain committed to improving animal welfare. The proposal for a dedicated EU platform is an interesting idea and should be discussed and explore. However, a platform for exchange or discussions on actions can only have an impact if there are concrete commitments of all the involved parties, including the Member States.

The French representative said that given the current situation it is very important to look at animal welfare, but this can only be done if they come up with global solutions to the breeding of animals. Europe is in a crisis situation at the moment, he said, so this platform should not lead to legislative inflation. Simplification should remain at the heart of any proposals that they make. This initiative must go hand-in-hand with the breeding of animals outdoors, as animals being bred outdoors have a better existence than those indoors, but there is no reference to this. There must also be clear commitments in international negotiations. If Europe makes certain choices and imposes rules on its farmers, it has to bear these in mind in international negotiations. The can discuss the platform as long as it does not lead to additional legislation, international agreements are kept in mind and breeding outdoors is referred to, he concluded.

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Erik is a consultant at Dods EU Monitoring

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