Farming Animals Differently: 4 Policy Demands for Better Animal Welfare

In this article, we recall the facts about the current state of animal welfare in Europe, and we present our four policy recommendations to give farmed animals the respect they deserve.

European citizens’ ethical and environmental concerns about the industrial exploitation of farmed animals have shed light on the need to update the current EU rules. As the European Commission is finalizing its proposal on the revision of the EU Animal Welfare legislation (expected in September 2023), Slow Food publishes a new policy brief outlining various opportunities to safeguard farmed animals’ rights and setting out political demands to ensure their health and well-being.

The spread of industrial animal farming as the dominant production model, focused on selective breeding for fast growth and high yields has led to millions of mistreated farmed animals in the EU. Nevertheless, factory farming lobbies have put tremendous pressure on EU policymakers to keep the status-quo, prompting concern among civil society that the new EU law will end up watered down.

In this article, we recall the horrendous facts about the current state of animal welfare in Europe, and we present our four policy recommendations to give farmed animals the respect they deserve.

Animals’ rights must come before profit.

End the Cage Age

Problem: Cages are still widely used in the EU, seriously impeding farmed animals’ well-being and natural behavior. Every year, up to 700 million farm animals, including hens, quails, rabbits, sows and ducks, are confined in cages on EU farms.  And most of them are kept this way for all or most of their lives.

Our demand: Cages are incompatible with sustainable food systems, and they should be banned. But animals need more than space: they also need to spend time outdoors. Access to pasture should be ensured for cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, and any other animal that needs to graze. Research has shown that extensive grazing of livestock has a positive impact on their welfare and on the biodiversity of grassland ecosystems, which can also, in some cases, store carbon.

Mutilations Are No Solution

Problem: Keeping large numbers of animals in confined spaces can lead to frustration, and even to aggressive behavior from bored animals who are not stimulated by their surrounding environment. Chickens peck each other’s feathers; pigs bite each other’s tails and ears; and cattle injure their peers with their horns to assert dominance during feeding or milking. Industrial farming’s solution has been to mutilate these animals, trimming the beaks of poultry, docking the pigs’ tails, and dehorning cattle.

Our demand: Mutilations should be banned through a profound transformation of animal farming systems, with changes to animal density, feeding through width, the internal structure of enclosures and the homogeneity of groups. If absolutely necessary, anaesthetics and analgesics must be used to avoid pain for the animal.

Keeping Live Animal Transport Within Reason

Problem: Approximately 3.5 million sheep and goats, 4.3 million head of cattle, 33.4 million pigs, and 1,000 million poultry were traded alive between EU countries in 2018. Most often, live animal transport causes stress (animals are sentient beings and are not used to be moved by vehicle), overcrowding (animals are usually crammed in small spaces during travel), exhaustion and dehydration (especially during the hottest summer months). What’s more, unexpected situations can cause travelling duration to last longer, incidents can occur in which animals lose their lives. Last but not least, live animal transport favors disease spreading.

Our demand: The EU must end live animal exports outside the EU and impose stricter rules for intra-EU transport, drastically limiting live-animal transport to distant slaughterhouses and keeping long journeys to a maximum of 8 hours (4 hours for poultry and rabbits). Furthermore, mobile slaughterhouses and on-farm slaughter should be developed, and small local slaughterhouses should be reopened to avoid long journeys.

Consumers Want to Know How Animals are Farmed

Problem: Right now, in the EU, there is no transparent animal welfare labelling system that properly rewards farmers who respect animals’ welfare or that helps consumers make informed decisions. Information on animal welfare exists for some products, due to legislation or private initiatives, but most animal welfare claims are voluntary. In any case, there is no EU harmonized system for most products.

Our demand: Labelling should be developed at EU level to include information concerning the welfare of animals during all the stages of their life, such as living conditions during farming and the type and origin of their feed. At the moment, this kind of labelling of production methods is only mandatory in the EU for eggs, and it has yielded interesting results: marketing standards for egg production set at EU level have positively influenced consumer demand and production choices. Such a labelling system should apply to both EU and imported products.


If you enjoyed discovering our 6 policy demands for better animal welfare, read our policy brief and dig deeper into the topic.

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