Improving the welfare of our farmed animals is a key element of the European Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy. Launched in 2020, it is now being scrutinised by the EU’s co-legislators. As part of the strategy, the EU is reviewing its animal welfare legislation, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been asked to provide scientific advice that reflects the most up-to-date research and data.
These new mandates reflect growing public concern around animal welfare in the food chain, particularly over issues such as animal transport and the use of cages in farming. The European Parliament’s decision to set up an inquiry committee on the protection of animals during transport reflects the importance of these concerns. There are also ongoing discussions about options for animal welfare labelling in the EU to recognise and encourage higher animal welfare standards.
Against this backdrop of growing societal and political concern, we have a great, possibly generational, opportunity to improve animal welfare standards throughout the EU.
Why is animal welfare important?
First and foremost, the EU recognises animals as sentient beings. This is the foundation of both our moral and legal duties to protect and care for them. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven again how connected our own health is to the health of animals, including domestic and companion animals.
“Production of harmonised, high-quality animal welfare data across the EU is vital to ensure that EFSA experts can provide legislators with the advice they need”
The safety of our food chain is also affected by the wellbeing, welfare and health of farmed animals and foodborne diseases such as salmonella or E. coli that originate from them. In fact, three-quarters of all infectious diseases in humans originate in animals. The core of the EU’s One Health approach is the belief that human and animal health are interlinked and therefore need to be addressed together.
Finally, we cannot produce food sustainably without also protecting our animals. Better animal welfare reduces the need for medication and can help preserve biodiversity.
What is EFSA working on?
EFSA is working on assessments on the welfare of poultry, pigs, dairy cows and calves as well as animal transport and housing systems. When we deliver our work during 2022 and 2023, it will serve as the scientific basis for improving welfare standards for farmed animals in the EU and possibly beyond.
In parallel, we have also received a mandate from the European Parliament to assess antimicrobial resistance risks in animal transport. This all adds up to a significant body of work that will help to embed societal concerns in a revamped and strengthened animal welfare legislation for the EU.
Caption: EFSA Headquarters, Parma, Italy | Source: EFSA
What are the challenges?
Scientific assessments of animal welfare are complex, and data is often scarce. The production of harmonised, high-quality animal welfare data across the EU is therefore vital to ensure that EFSA’s experts can provide legislators with the advice they need.
Recent developments are encouraging. New technologies offer the potential for remote monitoring of animal husbandry practices, transport and farming conditions, and are providing new streams of data. These technologies are also becoming more affordable. But technology is no substitute for human cooperation and partnership. As production systems and supply chains become ever more complicated, scientists and assessors need the support of everyone involved in the food chain.
We have more possibilities than ever before to track and protect the health of our animals. Let’s not waste this opportunity.
This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group