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Animal welfare

Maltese commissioner nominee grilled over birds 'massacre'

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Circus_pygargus_preparing_for_flight_at_little_rann_of_kutchKarmenu Vella, the Maltese candidate to be the EU's next environment commissioner, has been quizzed by MEPs over what he will do to address the "massacre" of wild birds in Malta.

At the same parliamentary hearing Chris Packham, the well-known UK TV presenter and environmental campaigner, said EU rules on the protection of birds must be "defended at all costs".

Vella has been tasked by Commission President elect Jean-Claude Juncker with "re-evaluating" the EU's Birds Directive, a law that his home country of Malta has been found to be breaking by European courts.

The European Parliament Environment Committee and Fisheries Committee held a hearing with Karmenu Vella.

MEPs from both committees will now give their opinion as to whether the European Parliament should accept his candidacy, taking into account his performance at the hearing.

In the nomination hearing on Tuesday (30 September), UK Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder challenged Vella on what he will do to stop the illegal killing of migratory birds in Malta.

Vella said that he condemns illegal hunting in Malta, adding: "I expect member states to implement all EU directives" and that "abuses shall not be tolerated."

Following the hearing, Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder commented: "People want to see EU rules on protecting our wildlife properly enforced, not watered down.

"I will now be holding Mr Vella's feet to the fire and ensuring he lives up to his word - including on action to stop illegal bird-hunting in Malta.

"Any attempts to water down legislation that preserves Europe's biodiversity will be met by fierce opposition by me and other like-minded MEPs."

Further comment came from the BBC's Packham, who said: "Given his pro-hunting Maltese credentials, a lot of people are astonished Mr Vella was offered this post and are concerned about the implications this has for protecting and improving EU environmental law.

"The EU Birds Directive is a vital and hard-won framework for the protection of birds in Europe. It must be defended at all costs, without it Europe would be a far worse place. The last thing we want is any attempts to weaken or water it down.

"Myself and other conservationists are immensely grateful for Catherine Bearder and her colleagues' support. To see this issue recognised by MEPs is extremely heartening and shows the importance of using the democratic process to meet our collective aims."

In his mission letter outlining priorities for the next 5 years, Juncker asked Vella to evaluate the Birds and Habitats and Directives and "assess the potential for merging them into a more modern piece of legislation."

A vote on whether to approve the 28 new European Commissioners is due to take place at the European Parliament's next plenary session in Strasbourg, which will take place from the 20-23 October.

Animal welfare

Animal welfare and protection: EU laws explained

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Cute close up of European wild catEuropean wild cat © AdobeStock/creativenature.nl 

The EU has some of world's highest animal welfare standards. Find out how the legislation protects wildlife, pets as well as farm and laboratory animals.

The European Union has advocated animal welfare for more than 40 years and is widely recognised as a global leader, with some of the world’s best animal welfare standards. EU rules have also positively influenced legislation in non-EU countries. They mainly concern farm animals (on the farm, during transport and at slaughter), but also wildlife, laboratory animals and pets.

Farm animals’ welfare

The first EU rules protecting farm animals date back to the 1970s. The 1998 directive for the protection of farmed animals established general standards for the protection of all animals kept for the production of food, wool, skin, fur or other farming purposes - including fish, reptiles and amphibians - and is based on the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes of 1978.

EU rules on animal welfare reflect the so-called five freedoms:
  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress

EU rules for the protection and welfare of animals during transport were approved in 2004. However, in a resolution adopted on 14 February 2019, Parliament called for better enforcement, sanctions and reduced journey times.

On 19 June 2020 MEPs set up an inquiry committee to look into alleged breaches in the application of EU animal welfare rules during transport within and outside the EU.

Other EU rules set welfare standards for farm animals during stunning and slaughter, as well as for breeding conditions for specific animal categories such as calves, pigs and laying hens.

In October 2018, MEPs adopted a new regulation on veterinary medicinal products to curb the use of medicines to compensate for poor conditions or to make animals grow faster.

In line with the presentation of the new Farm to Fork Strategy for a more sustainable agriculture, the European Commission is currently evaluating all EU legislation on the welfare of farmed animals.

Wildlife protection

The 500 wild birds naturally occurring in the EU are protected by the Birds Directive, whilst the Habitats Directive aims to ensure the conservation of rare, threatened or endemic animal species and characteristic habitat types.

The EU Pollinators Initiative was launched in 2018 to tackle the decline of wild pollinating insects, especially bees. Parliament called for a further reduction of pesticides and more funds for research. In a report adopted in January 2018, Parliament had already said regional and local bees varieties should be better protected.

Whales and dolphins are protected from capture and killing in EU waters. In addition, the EU has always been a defender of the full implementation of the moratorium on commercial whaling in place since 1986.

An EU regulation bans the trade in seal products.

There are also rules on trapping methods, prohibiting the use of leghold traps to catch wild animals in the EU and setting humane standards.

The EU implements and goes beyond the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) through its Wildlife Trade Regulations to ensure trade in wildlife products does not lead to species becoming endangered.

In May 2020, the Commission presented an ambitious new Biodiversity Strategy as part of the EU Green Deal.

Zoos

EU rules on keeping wild animals in zoos seek to strengthen their role in the conservation of biodiversity and set standards for protection measures, including appropriate accommodation for animals.

Animal testing for scientific purposes

The EU has created a legal framework that regulates animal studies for the development of new medicines, for physiological studies and for testing of food additives or chemicals. The rules are based on the principle of the three R’s:

  • Replacement (fostering the use of alternative methods)
  • Reduction (trying to use fewer animals for the same objective)
  • Refinement (efforts to minimise pain and suffering)

Animal testing on cosmetics and the marketing of such products is prohibited in the EU. In a resolution adopted in 2018, Parliament called for a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics.

Pet protection

To clamp down on the illegal trade in dogs and cats, Parliament called for an EU-wide action plan, tougher sanctions and mandatory registration in a resolution adopted on 12 February 2020.

To address the concerns of Europeans who consider pets as part of their families, cat and dog fur has been banned in the EU since 2008. The legislation bans the placing on the market and the import to or export of cat and dog fur and of all products containing such fur.

Thanks to harmonized EU rules on travelling with pets, people are free to move with their furry friends within the European Union. The pet passport or the animal health certificate is the only requirement for dogs, cats and ferrets to travel across EU borders, with certain exceptions.

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Animal welfare

#FishWelfareGuidelines promise higher welfare for millions of fish

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The EU Platform on Animal Welfare has today (24 June) published best practice guidelines on water quality and handling for the welfare of farmed fish. The landmark guidelines are the first concrete step at the EU level to implement higher welfare standards in fish farms.

Happy fish are healthy fish, yet little has been done so far at EU level to improve the welfare of the fish reared in Europe’s aquaculture establishments. Adopted unanimously by the ​EU Platform on Animal Welfare​, the guidelines were developed by a working group led by Greece (the largest producer of farmed fish in the EU), together with Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark, and Norway plus participants from civil society groups, the aquaculture sector, and experts in the field.

The guidelines identify common threats in aquaculture, including acute stressors which ‘can lead to injury, pain, distress, and suffering…(and) may bring long lasting effects’ and chronic stressors which ‘in the long term can impair immune function, growth and reproductive function’. A framework and practical guidance are given for reducing suffering on Europe’s fish farms while sustainably producing a high quality product for consumers.

The adoption of the guidelines by the Platform comes at a particularly fortuitous time as the Commission plans to use such guides as part of their new strategic guidelines for​sustainable development of aquaculture in the EU​, due for adoption later this year. It is important that the Commission builds on these guidelines to develop comprehensive standards for farming, transport and killing, of farmed fish.

Eurogroup for Animals Chief Executive Reineke Hameleers said​: “For too long these sensitive and fascinating animals have been Europe’s ‘Cinderella species’, forgotten about and left on the sidelines. However, over 6 billion fish are farmed each year within the EU They are being reared in a diversity of farming systems and unnatural environments, equipment isn’t designed to avoid injury and procedures aren’t designed to minimize suffering from handling.

"The link between increased stress levels and higher immunodeficiency is widely recognized. Poor husbandry practices on fish farms lead to higher stress levels and ultimately to poor fish health. Happy fish are healthy fish, and this cannot be ignored any longer.

"Our Eurogroup for Animals team is proud to have been able to play our part in the creation of these landmark guidelines, and we would like to thank Greece for taking the lead together with the EU’s other leading aquaculture producing countries. We are encouraged by DG MARE’s plans to build upon them further, and we look forward to working with the Commission to this end."

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Animal transports

MEPs vote for new Committee of Inquiry on #AnimalTransport

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Today (19 June), the EU Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of the establishment of a Committee of Inquiry on animal transport. Compassion in World Farming and FOUR PAWS are delighted with the outcome of the vote. At present, EU member states are poorly enforcing the EU law that is meant to protect the millions of farmed animals transported thousands of miles for slaughter, breeding or further fattening every year.

The EU needs to resolve a number of long persistent problems related to the implementation of the EU law on animal transport, including overcrowding, failure to provide the required rest stops, food and water, transport in extreme heat, transport of unfit animals and insufficient bedding.

The decision by the EU Parliament follows a wave of actions by civil society and the EU institutions, raising red flags on the issue. The EU Commission’s recent ‘Farm To Fork’ strategy clearly states that the EU Commission intends to review the legislation on animal transport. In December last year, the Council of the EU highlighted that ‘clear shortcomings and inconsistencies remain’ regarding the challenges of long-distance transport in its conclusions on animal welfare.

World Farming EU Head of Compassion Olga Kikou said: “The Parliament’s vote to put the atrocities of animal transport under the limelight brings hope. Every year millions of farm animals are transported live on long and gruesome journeys, quite often in filthy conditions, cramped, and often trampling on each other. In summer, they are transported in scathingly high temperatures, dehydrated and exhausted. Some of them perish. For many, these are the last torturous hours before they reach the slaughterhouse. EU law should protect animals from such suffering, yet most EU countries do not comply with the legal requirements regarding transport and allow such cruelty to continue. This must stop. The EU must finally reduce the number and overall duration of transports and put an end to animal exports outside EU borders.”

FOUR PAWS European Policy Office Director Pierre Sultana said: “Today's decision is a milestone for animal welfare. Parliament has taken the opportunity to address animal suffering during transport. Systematic violations during animal transport have been criticized for years. The Committee of Inquiry will investigate violations and maladministration of the Animal Transport Regulation by the European Commission and the EU member states. Parliament, as the directly elected representation of the European citizens, thus fulfils its most important task, namely the exercise of democratic oversight and control. This is a clear sign for member states and the European Commission to do more to avoid animal suffering and enforce EU regulation.”

  1. The proposal was put forward by the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents on 11 June. During the previous legislative term, the European Parliament adopted an Implementation Report on live transport and concluded that a Committee of Inquiry on live indeed needed (2018/2110(INI), Point 22). According to the European Commission’s overview audit reports of animal transport by land and by sea, there is widespread non-compliance and regular failure by Member State authorities to enforce this law. The European Court of Auditors also concluded in its report on the implementation of animal welfare legislation that ‘weaknesses persist in certain areas related to welfare issues’ during transport.
  2. The Committee of Inquiry is an investigative instrument that the EU Parliament can decide to establish in order to address pressing societal issues. In the past legislative terms, for instance the EU Parliament established special committees in the aftermath of the LuxLeaks and mad cow disease scandals.
  3. Compassion in World Farming has campaigned for farm animal welfare and sustainable food and farming for over 50 years. We have over one million supporters and representations in eleven European countries, the US, China, and South Africa. Our EU Office campaigns for an end to the use of cruel caged systems, reducing our consumption of animal products, an end to long-distance live animal transport and the exports of live animals outside the EU, and higher animal welfare standards, including for fish.
  4. FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded by Heli Dungler in Vienna in 1988, FOUR PAWS focuses on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals kept in inappropriate conditions, as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With sustainable campaigns and projects, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term protection for suffering animals.

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