The European Parliament has voted in favour of a report on on-farm animal welfare that will feed into the EU’s new animal welfare rules, but the report has been lambasted for supporting controversial practices, such as foie gras production, and favouring economic interests.
Together with several scientific opinions from the EU’s food safety agency (EFSA), the own-initiative report, approved by a large majority on Tuesday (15 February), will now help guide the direction of deliberations on the revision of the EU legislation on animal welfare.
The report stressed the need for clarity on the existing rules, as well as further harmonisation across the bloc, given that the current EU legislation on the welfare of food-producing animals is not fully implemented in all member states.
Meanwhile, the update of animal welfare rules should take into account EU farmers’ competitiveness in the global agricultural market, according to the MEPs, who called for reciprocity in trade deals.
As current voluntary and mostly private EU animal welfare labelling systems vary considerably, MEPs also voiced support for a mandatory EU framework for voluntary labelling to provide a practical framework while leaving room for private initiatives.
On the back of the news, rapporteur Jérémy Decerle told EURACTIV he was “satisfied” to see the European Parliament has chosen to back a report that was “balanced, responsible, reasonable, and reflective of the reality on the ground”.
“The report addresses both the needs and achievements of farmers and citizens,” he said, emphasising the need for farmers to be economically remunerated for their efforts and recognised for the work they have already done in implementing and improving standards.
For the Commission’s part, Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides also gave the report her blessing during a debate in the run-up to the vote on Monday (14 February).
The Commissioner said she was “well aware of the multidimensional nature of animal welfare and the complexity of possible options” and concluded that the report “reflects these well”.
Kyriakides promised to “take note of your recommendations” and present a proposal on animal welfare labelling to the Parliament, together with the revision of the animal welfare legislation, before the end of 2023.
The EU farming sector also welcomed the result, with EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA saying the strong support from the Parliament showed the authors of the report had struck “the good balance”.
However, the outcome of the report attracted staunch criticism from both the left camp in the Parliament and civil society.
Specifically, critics lambasted the fact that the report favoured the economic interests of farmers over the welfare of animals, as well as the assertion that widespread animal welfare violations are only “anecdotal cases of non-compliance” that receive too much attention.
Detractors, including the likes of Green MEP Francisco Guerreiro and leftist MEP Anja Hazekamp, also decried the fact that controversial practices, such as the production of foie gras, are considered in the report as ethical.
Meanwhile, they pointed to the fact that the report does not even present viable solutions for the long-standing issue of tail-docking in pigs, which, despite being outlawed more than a decade ago, has only been banned in two EU countries to date.
As such, the report is a “missed opportunity,” according to Guerreiro, while Hazekamp queried the objectivity of the report, pointing out that it was under the responsibility of Decerle, who is an active cattle farmer.
Decerle dismissed these criticisms, emphasising that the report was a result of a team effort and was a “balanced compromise”.
“Farmers know best how to look after their animals,” he said, stressing that EU farmers already adhere to the highest animal welfare standards in the world and that it is “concerning” for people that look after cats and dogs to think they know best how to raise farm animals.
Despite initial high hopes, many campaign groups also criticised the report, calling it unfit for purpose and “toothless”.
Joanna Swabe, senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International/Europe said this Parliament has “not only let down the millions of EU citizens who are deeply concerned about the welfare of animals, but also the billions of sentient beings exploited for food production under conditions that often do not meet their welfare needs”.
“The blatant disregard for animal welfare science in this report is shocking,” she said, adding that the primary interest of MEPs appears to be “maintaining the status quo”.
Meanwhile, Olga Kikou, head of Compassion in World Farming EU, called the result “disheartening”.
“The assembly has voted for a report that completely fails to meet its stated goal of protecting and improving the welfare of farmed animals,” she said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]