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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
130.000 sheep from Romania expected to die due to the Suez bottleneck
You might think the Suez crisis is over, but not for the hundreds of thousands of live animals which are still trapped in the Suez crossing, animals that are now running out of food and water. There are a total of over 200.000 live animals coming from Colombia, Spain, and more than half from Romania which have not yet reached destination. They are very likely to die as feed and water are quickly running out in the overcrowded ships that take them to their slaughter - writes Cristian Gherasim
The maritime blockade generated by the Ever Given might have passed but there are still a great many ships caring live animals over thousands of kilometers that haven’t even crossed the Suez despite expectations that they might have been given priority due to the fragile cargo and the fact that they are days behind schedule.
Animal welfare NGOs explained that even though the EU legislation demands transporters to load 25 percent more food than planned for their trip in case of delays, that rarely happens.
Animal rights NGOs say that even with the 25 percent buffer, these ships would now run out of animal feed long before they arrive in port.
For example, ships that left Romania on 16 March was scheduled to arrive in Jordan on 23 March, but instead it would now reach port on 1 April at the earliest. That is a nine-day delay. Even if the ship had the required 25 percent additional animal feed, it would only have lasted for 1.5 days
Some of the 11 ships full to the brim that left Romania carrying 130.000 live animals to Persian Gulf states have ran out of food and water even before the Ever Given was dislodged. Romania authorities said in a press release that they have been informed that priority will be given to this ships but nothing of that sort happened, said NGOs.
It is very likely that we will never know the magnitude of the worst maritime animal welfare disaster in history, as transporters regularly throw dead animals overboard to hide the evidence. More so, Romania would not release that information either, because it would not look good and authorities know that it would lead to investigations.
Live animals are slowly baked alive in the scorching heat from those confined metal containers.
Repeated investigations showed animals exported to Gulf countries dying from the high temperatures, being unloaded violently off ships, squeezed into car trunks, and slaughtered by unskilled butchers
Romania exports a great deal of live animals despite the appalling conditions. It has been singled out by the European Commission for its bad practices regarding live-animal exports. Only last year more than 14,000 sheep drowned when a cargo vessel capsized off the Black Sea coast. A year before the EU commissioner for food safety called for live exports to be suspended due to the heat. Romania doubled then their exports.
Live animal exports are not only cruel but also detrimental to the economy. Farmers lacking local meat processing facilities say that they are losing money having to ship their livestock overseas. Live animals are being sold 10 times cheaper than if the meat were to be processed in the country and then exported.
Live animal exports from Romania remains unabated even during the hot summer months despite the repeated warnings from Brussels, despite the fact countries such as Australia and New Zeeland put a stop to that, and despite this being an economical nonsense. Experts and studies show that processed and refrigerated meat would be more beneficial, bring economic advantages and higher returns
Animal welfare victory: CJEU ruling confirms member states' right to introduce mandatory pre-slaughter stunning
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 Wallonia, Chief 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.”
Time to listen to citizens and trust technology when it comes to slaughter
The conversation on slaughter without stunning is bouncing around Europe for different reasons: animal welfare, religion, economy. The practice means killing animals while still fully conscious and it is used in some religious traditions, such as the Jewish and Muslim ones, to produce respectively kosher and halal meat, writes Reineke Hameleers.
The Polish parliament and senate are voting on the Five for animals bill, which, among other measures, includes a restriction on the possibility of ritual slaughter. Jewish communities and politicians across Europe are calling on Polish authorities to scrap the ban on kosher meat exports (Poland is one of the biggest European exporters of kosher meat).
The request though doesn’t take into account what EU Citizens, Polish included, have just expressed in the opinion poll Eurogroup for Animals recently released. The majority clearly supports higher animal welfare standards declaring that: it should be mandatory to make animals unconscious before they are slaughtered (89%); countries should be able to adopt additional measures that ensure higher animal welfare standards (92%); the EU should require all animals to be stunned before being slaughtered, even for religious reasons (87%); the EU should prioritise funding for alternative practices for slaughtering animals in humane ways that are also accepted by religious groups (80%).
While the results unequivocally show the civil society position against slaughter without stunning, this should not be interpreted as a threat to religious freedom, as some try to picture it. It represents the level of attention and care Europeans have towards animals, which is also enshrined in the EU Treaty defining animals as sentient beings.
The EU law says that all animals must be made unconscious before being killed, with exceptions in the context of some religious practices. Several countries like Slovenia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and two regions of Belgium (Flanders and Wallonia) adopted stricter rules with no exceptions to the mandatory stunning of animals before slaughter.
In Flanders, as well as in Wallonia, the parliament adopted the law almost unanimously (0 votes against, only a few abstentions). The law was the result of a long process of democratic decision making which included hearings with the religious communities, and received cross-party support. It is key to understand that the ban refers to slaughter without stunning and it is not a ban on religious slaughter.
These rules aim at ensuring higher welfare for animals being slaughtered in the context of religious rites. Indeed the European Food Safety Authority concluded that serious welfare problems are highly likely to occur after the throat cut, since the animal - still conscious - can feel anxiety, pain and distress. Also, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) acknowledged that “particular methods of slaughter prescribed by religious rites that are carried out without pre-stunning are not tantamount, in terms of serving a high level of animal welfare at the time of killing”.
Nowadays reversible stunning allows for the protection of animals being slaughtered in the context of religious rites without interfering with the rites per se. It causes unconsciousness through electronarcosis, so the animals are still alive when their throat is cut.
Given what citizens expressed in the opinion poll, and the possibilities offered by technology, European Member States should be able to adopt additional measures that ensure higher animal welfare standards, like the Belgian region of Flanders which introduced such a measure in 2017 and is now threatened to have it reversed by the CJEU.
It’s time for our leaders to base their decisions on sound science, unequivocal case law, accepted alternatives to slaughter without stunning, and strong democratic, moral values. It’s time to pave the way to real progress in the EU instead of turning the clock backwards.
The opinions expresed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.
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