Animal welfare intergroup 'watchdog' for other institutions

Janusz Wojciechowski talks to the Parliament Magazine about the priorities parliament's animal welfare intergroup has set out for itself.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

18 May 2015

Parliament's animal welfare intergroup was established 32 years ago, and its chair Janusz Wojciechowski describes it as "an important initiator for the EU machinery to pay attention to animal welfare issues".

The MEP, who is also a vice-chair of parliament's agriculture and rural development committee, tells this magazine, "my parents were farmers. I grew up in the countryside, where there were many different farm animals, as well as dogs and cats. I have always had close contact with animals".

These days, he says, "together with my wife, we are feeding 15 cats living in our garden, and one that lives with us".


Some key topics the group has already discussed this year include "the plight of farmed animals kept in cages - particularly rabbits - the terrible trade in wildlife trafficking, trophy hunting and the trade in illegal animal products, pig welfare, slaughter as well as origin labelling for consumers".

And the intergroup - which counts 105 members - is set to keep busy, as Wojciechowski reveals that, "in the coming months, we will look into developments in animal experimentation and push for an increased take up of alternatives, we will look at horse welfare - an area that is not covered by any EU legislation at present - as well as fur farming, the identification and registration of companion animals and the impacts of the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH)".

Manufacturers of veterinary products have complained that medicines for animals must go through the same procedures as human medicines before they can be approved, arguing that this is unfair as the multitude of different species means that the process comes with a heavy administrative burden. 

The animal welfare intergroup is aware of the problem, with Wojciechowski calling it "a very important topic, and we have followed it closely, especially the use of antibiotics and anti-microbials and the effect these may have on animal and human health".

However, he notes that the group is "still awaiting clarity on how this issue will evolve - it is therefore currently not clear how we will address it".

One thing that is certain, though, is that MEPs are "against any unnecessary testing of veterinary medicines, especially where these tests involve animal testing".

The ECR deputy adds, "the intergroup always supports good and valid science and in our view good sciences includes and promotes the use of alternatives to animal testing of any kind of medicines, whether human or veterinarian. We are concerned by the number of animals that are used to test these medicines and we have actively encouraged the commission and the industry to work together to reduce them".

Nevertheless, he points out that, "the issue is complicated - animal medicines may have a direct impact on human health, and as such we need to ensure they are safe for use and will have no side effects. This inevitably means that the industry has to address a number of complex, and to some extent bureaucratic, processes".

The intergroup will also be taking on bee welfare after the commission announced that one in 10 bee species in Europe faces extinction. This could have dramatic consequences for the environment, as pollination is essential to maintaining the ecosystem.

While Wojciechowski admits that this is "a relatively new issue for the intergroup and we are still learning and trying to understand exactly what is going on and why", he does stress that "we must recognise that it is a clear indication of the pressure that nature is under".

"We will continue to work with our colleagues to address the concerns raised and explore the issue thoroughly to ensure a clear strategy is developed and a healthy bee population in the EU is maintained", he says.

In addition, "the intergroup has launched a report on illegal wildlife trade and will continue to exercise the highest possible pressure on this topic".

The MEP underlines that, "the EU is one of the primary markets for illegally traded wild animals and their products, therefore it is imperative that it acts as one strong single market to stop this trade as quickly as possible".

Unfortunately, while the intergroup is committed to promoting animal welfare throughout Europe, given that the 28 member states differ on the rules and their enforcement, this has proven to be a tricky task.

"The intergroup takes enforcement very seriously and has on many occasions put pressure on the commission and member states to act. This goes beyond enforcing current legislation into areas such as stray dog populations, where we have visited member states and explored what could be done to improve animal welfare in those countries", says Wojciechowski.

He highlights that "enforcement remains a priority, however member states must do their part".

The animal welfare intergroup meets each month, and the Polish deputy views it as "an important and much needed watchdog of the other institutions when it comes to animal welfare".

He laments that "too often, we have to remind the other institutions of the fact that the Lisbon treaty has laid down that EU legislation must pay full regard to animal sentience when formulating its policies and guidelines".

"We would like to see animal welfare and the acknowledgement of animal sentience mainstreamed in all aspects of human life - this naturally includes policymaking".

"At every meeting, we really look to ensure there is a call to action that will not only put pressure on the commission to act, but also engage with EU citizens and show that they are extremely concerned by animal welfare and suffering", he adds.


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