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Animal welfare: Parliament wants better protection for transported animals

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Long journeys create stress and suffering for farm animals. MEPs want stricter controls, tougher penalties and shorter traveling times to increase animals' welfare across the EU.

Every year, millions of animals are transported long distances across the EU and to non-EU countries to be bred, reared or slaughtered, as well as for competitions and the pet trade. From 2009 to 2015, the number of animals transported within the EU increased by 19% - from 1.25 billion to 1.49 billion. The numbers for pigs, poultry and horses increased, whereas those for cattle, sheep and goats decreased. Over the same period, the number of consignments of live animals in the EU increased from about 400,000 to 430,000 per year.

There are already EU rules for the protection and welfare of animals during transport.  However, a resolution to be voted on in plenary on 14 February calls for better enforcement, sanctions and reduced journey times.

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“In formulating and implementing the Union’s […] policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”

Article 13, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Decreasing travelling times

Long journeys stress animals, which suffer from reduced space, changing temperatures, limited food and water as well as vehicle motion. Inadequate equipment or poor weather conditions may mean animals are injured or become ill during transportation. Crossing borders to non-EU countries, with long stops to check documents, vehicles and animals represents an additional problem.

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Animals transported for more than eight hours within the EU every year 
  • 4 million cattle 
  • 4 million sheep 
  • 150,000 horses 
  • 28 million pigs 
  • 243 million poultry 

MEPs argue that journeys lasting more than eight hours should be reduced as much as possible, and recommend alternative solutions, such as the transport of animal products rather than live animals and the development of on-farm or local slaughter and meat processing facilities.

Additionally, they ask for a clear definition of animal fitness for transport to be set to avoid further risks.

Stricter controls and tougher penalties

MEPs recommend the use of modern technologies, such as geo-location systems, to allow for journeys to be tracked in real time. They also urge EU countries to carry out more spot checks to help reduce the number of infringements. The level of inspections varies widely across the EU, from zero to several million inspections per year. The incidence of infringements ranges from 0% to 16.6%.

Parliament is also pushing for tougher penalties to discourage bad practice, including sanctions for member states that don’t properly apply EU rules. Companies who breach the rules could face bans on inadequate vehicles and vessels, withdrawal of transport licences and compulsory staff training on animal welfare.

Higher standards abroad

To protect animals exported to non-EU countries, MEPs want bilateral agreements or a ban on the transport of live animals when national standards are not aligned with EU law. They also want assurances that appropriate resting areas where animals can eat and drink are provided at customs posts.

Animal testing

European Parliament to vote on animal-free research, testing and education

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Anyone who is familiar with Ralph, a test rabbit mascot that is subject to Draize eye irritancy test in cosmetics labs and suffers from blindness, will wonder how such cruelty is still acceptable in an age of advanced science and technology. The Save Ralph video went viral all over the world and became most probably the reason why Mexico recently joined the ranks of states, which banned animal testing for cosmetics. So did the EU back in 2013. The EU plans to go even further by adopting a resolution on “a co-ordinated Union-level action to facilitate the transition to innovation without the use of animals in research, testing and education” this week (15 September), writes Eli Hadzhieva.

Although the EU encourages the use of non-animal methods, such as the new organ-on-chip technology, computer simulations and 3-D cultures of human cells, research shows that archaic methods, such as “50 percent lethal dose” killing half of the millions of test animals, are still widely in use. Moreover, evidence growingly shows that some animals, such as rabbits and rodents, are completely different species from humans to be seen as reliable proxies for the protection of human health from chemical risks. For example, drugs, such as thalidomide, TGN1412 or fialuridine, aimed at treating morning sickness, leukaemia and Hepatitis B respectively, proved totally safe for animals but could not be tolerated by humans.

According to the European Commission, the European chemicals strategy for sustainability increased support for use of Non-Animal Methodologies (NAMs) in Chemicals Risk Assessment, especially with several Horizon 2020 projects (ASPIS Cluster comprising RISK-HUNT3R, ONTOX and PrecisionTOX projects), the upcoming REACH and Cosmetics Regulation revisions, the new project of the European Partnership for Alternative Approaches on NAMs use in risk assessment, PARC with the objective of transitioning to next generation risk assessment and a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda. The global acceptance of non-animal and innovative approaches to chemical safety is also high on the OECD agenda.

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A webinar organised on 9 September by EU-ToxRisk and PATROLS, two multi-stakeholder projects funded by the EU’s H2020 Program, illustrated the limitations of the existing in vitro (test-tube experiments) and in silico (computer-simulated experiments) hazard detection systems while showcasing a new toolbox to conduct animal-free assessments for chemicals and nanomaterials. EU-ToxRisk project coordinator Bob van der Water from Leiden University highlighted his vision “to drive a paradigm shift in toxicology towards an animal-free, mechanism-based integrated approach to chemical safety assessment” through an established NAM toolbox based on in vitro and in silico tools and novel next generation NAM toolbox components. He emphasised advanced novel test systems, such as CRISPR-based fluorescent reporters in stem cells, stem-cell derived multi-liver-cell model, diseased liver micro-tissues and four-organ-chip while highlighting that NAMs should rapidly be integrated into regulatory testing frameworks.

Shareen Doak, the Coordinator of PATROLS from Swansea University highlighted the knowledge gaps regarding long term effects of realistic engineered nanomaterial (ENM) exposures for human and health environment while demonstrating innovative methods, such as extrinsic ENM properties, advanced ecotoxicity tests, heterotypic in vitro models of the lung, GIT and liver etc. “These methods are tailored to better understand human and environmental hazards and should be implemented as part of the EU’s safe and sustainable-by-design strategy to minimise the need for animal testing”, she said.

“The biggest challenge is the acceptance and the implementation of NAMs. Standard validation requirements are too long and the applicability domain of NAMs needs to be established considering new emerging technologies”, she added.

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In an earlier statement, the ASPIS Cluster expressed support for the motion for resolution of the European Parliament describing it as “timely to accelerate an animal-free transition and meet EU ambition to lead on the next generation for risk assessment in Europe and worldwide” all by welcoming EU efforts “which will translate into regulatory and industrial practices that will better protect human health and the ecosystems, by enabling us to identify, classify and ultimately remove hazardous substances from the environment”.

The moderator of the webinar MEP Tilly Metz (Greens, Luxembourg), also shadowing the European Parliament’s resolution, said that she hopes that the final resolution will contain the following elements: “Concrete steps to phase out animal testing, precise roadmaps and studies, a coordinated approach by EU agencies, such as the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency and fast implementation of new advanced methods”.

This gives a lot of food for thought for policymakers in a make-or-break moment for Ralph and his animal and human friends. It’s time that words translate into action and the regulatory environment evolves in line with new realities on the ground while giving a breathing space to these promising and safe animal-free technologies by adopting a dynamic approach to accept and use them. This will not only allow us to live up to the zero-pollution ambition in the Green Deal but will also deliver “a toxic-free environment” both for animals and humans.

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Animal transports

Help farmers to end cage farming

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“We strongly support the Citizens’ Initiative 'End the Cage Age' for farm animals. Together with 1.4 million Europeans we ask the Commission to propose the right measures to end cage farming,” said Michaela Šojdrová MEP, EPP Group member of Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.

“Animal welfare can be best guaranteed when farmers get the right incentives for it. We support a smooth transition from cages to alternative systems within a sufficient transition period that is considered for each species specifically,” added Šojdrová.

As the European Commission has promised to propose new animal welfare legislation in 2023, Šojdrová underlines that an impact assessment must be done before, by 2022, including the costs of the required transformation in both the short and the long-term. “As different species, laying hens or rabbits, require different conditions, the proposal must cover these differences with a species by species approach, by 2027. Farmers need transition periods and a compensation of the higher production costs,” Šojdrová said.

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“To guarantee animal welfare and to not disadvantage our European farmers, we need effective control if imported products respect EU animal welfare standards. Imported products must comply with European animal welfare standards so that our high-quality production will not be replaced by low-quality imports,” emphasised Šojdrová.

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Animal transports

Animal welfare victory: CJEU ruling confirms member states' right to introduce mandatory pre-slaughter stunning  

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Today (17 December) is a historic day for animals, as the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) clarified that member states are allowed to impose mandatory pre-slaughter stunning. The case raised from the ban adopted by the Flemish government in July 2019 which made stunning compulsory also for the production of meat by means of traditional Jewish and Muslim rites.

The verdict ruled that member states can legitimately introduce mandatory reversible stunning in the framework of Art. 26.2(c) of the Council Regulation 1099/2009 (Slaughter Regulation), with the aim to improve animal welfare during those killing operations carried out in the context of religious rites. It clearly states that the Slaughter Regulation “does not preclude member states from imposing an obligation to stun animals prior to killing which also applies in the case of slaughter prescribed by religious rites”.

This judgment considers the latest development on reversible stunning as a method that successfully balances the apparently competing values of religious freedom and animal welfare, and it concludes that “the measures contained in the (Flemish) decree allow a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion”.

Eurogroup for Animals has followed the Court case closely and in October it released an opinion poll showing that EU citizens do not want to see animals slaughtered while fully conscious.

“It is now clear that our society doesn’t support animals to unduly suffer at the most critical time of their lives. Reversible stunning makes it possible to successfully balance the apparently competing values of religious freedom, and the concern for animal welfare under current EU law. Acceptance of pre-slaughter stunning by religious communities is increasing both in EU and non-EU countries. Now it’s time for the EU to make pre-slaughter stunning always mandatory in the next revision of the Slaughter Regulation,” said Eurogroup for Animals CEO Reineke Hameleers.

Throughout the years, experts have raised concerns about the serious animal welfare implications of killing without pre-cut stunning (FVE, 2002; EFSA, 2004; BVA, 2020), as acknowledged by the Court itself, in another case (C-497/17).

The case will now go back to the Flanders’ constitutional court which will have to confirm and implement the CJEU’s ruling. Furthermore, the imminent revision of the Slaughter Regulation, as announced by the European Commission in the framework of the EU Farm to Fork strategy, gives the chance to further clarify the matter by making pre-slaughter stunning always compulsory and move towards a Europe that cares for animals.

Following the European Court of Justice’s decision this morning to uphold the ban on non-stun slaughter in the Belgian regions of Flanders and WalloniaChief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), has issued the following statement:

“This decision goes even further than expected and flies in the face of recent statements from the European Institutions that Jewish life is to be treasured and respected. The Court is entitled to rule that member states may or may not accept derogations from the law, that has always been in the regulation, but to seek to define shechita, our religious practice, is absurd.

“The European Court of Justice’s decision to enforce the ban on non-stun slaughter in the Flanders and Wallonia regions of Belgium will be felt by Jewish communities across the continent. The bans have already had a devastating impact on the Belgian Jewish community, causing supply shortages during the pandemic, and we are all very aware of the precedent this sets which challenges our rights to practise our religion.

“Historically, bans on religious slaughter have always been associated with the far-right and population control, a trend that is clearly documented a can be traced back to bans in Switzerland in the 1800s to prevent Jewish immigration from Russia and the Pogroms, to the bans in Nazi Germany and as recently as 2012, attempts to ban religious slaughter in the Netherlands were publicly promoted as a method of stopping Islam spreading to the country. We now face a situation where, with no consultation of the local Jewish community, a ban has been implemented and the implications on the Jewish community will be long lasting.

“We are told by European leaders that they want Jewish communities to live and be successful in Europe, but they provide no safeguards for our way of life. Europe needs to reflect on the type of continent it wants to be. If values like freedom of religion and true diversity are integral, than the current system of law does not reflect that and needs to be urgently reviewed. 

“We will continue to work with representatives of the Belgian Jewish community to offer our support in any way that we can.”

Opinion poll on slaughter 
Summary of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) case C-336/19
Amicus Curiae on CJEU case
Advocate General opinion

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