Slow Food: The European Commission Must Stand its Ground on Animal Welfare Against Corporate Interests

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.

“Animal welfare is first and foremost a matter of respect: animals are sentient beings. We call on EU institutions to adopt a One Welfare approach which recognizes that animal welfare, biodiversity and the environment are connected to human well-being, and vice-versa”, comments Ottavia Pieretto Protein Transition Project Coordinator at Slow Food

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. Meanwhile, animal farms in the EU are responsible for 43% of all methane emissions and 43% of ammonia emissions, and contribute to biodiversity loss and growing antimicrobial resistance among humans.

Nevertheless, factory farming lobbies have put tremendous pressure on EU policymakers to keep the status-quo, prompting concern among civil society that the draft EU law expected later this year ends up watered down. We call on EU institutions to hold their ground against the fierce opposition of vested interests to any legislative change towards sustainable agriculture.

The transition to more respectful farming must include a transformation of our food system towards agroecological farming, where farmed animals are included as part of extensive, circular, and mixed farming models, but also a transition towards a more plant-based diet to keep the food system within planetary boundaries and promote health.

Today, EU legislation on the protection of farmed animals covers all the different steps of production, from farming to transport and slaughter. However, many areas are not yet being addressed, such as long-distance animal transport, labelling, the well-being of dairy cows, farmed fish, and the use of antibiotics.

Slow Food strongly believes that the European Commission must be more ambitious in its approach to animal welfare, with a focus on the following areas: on-farm welfare, transport, slaughter, and animal welfare labelling:

  • Intensive farmed animals spend their entire lives in horrid conditions where they get mutilated and locked up in cages which impede their well-being and natural behavior. The EU must implement an animal welfare assessment system in livestock farming that can also be effective in extensive systems, i.e. based on animal-based parameters and with threshold values adapted to different contexts. Access to pasture must be ensured for grazing as much as possible and mutilations must be banned.

 

  • While animals’ current on-farm living conditions are appalling, things do not get better for them during transportation, which can last for hours if not days, within and outside the EU. The EU must end live animal exports outside the EU, impose the same animal welfare standards on products entering the EU market from abroad and impose stricter rules for intra-EU transport, limiting live-animal journeys to only essential and local travel.

 

  • The issue of animal welfare cannot be addressed properly without tackling the most critical phase: slaughter. It is crucial for the EU to support the establishment and uptake of small-scale, on-farm and/or mobile slaughterhouses to diminish the suffering of animals during transport and end-of-life stress.

 

  • The revised animal welfare legislation should adopt measures targeted at improving consumer information on animal welfare. One clear option could be a harmonized labelling framework applicable to both EU and imported products. This would empower EU citizens to make sustainable choices and incentivize producers to transition towards more respectful methods of animal farming.

The European Commission has shown commitment to improving farmed animals’ welfare by announcing the revision of the existing legislation. Likewise, the upcoming EU Sustainable Food Systems Framework Law could represent an opportunity for the European Commission to explicitly recognize that the health and well-being of animals, people, plants, and the environment are deeply interconnected.

“European Citizens’ awareness on animal rights has increased; they want farmed animals to be raised ethically and sustainably. They demand that animals and nature be respected and European institutions must not ignore their calls for the benefit of corporate interests.” concludes Pieretto.

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