The French Ministry for Agriculture has launched a four-year animal welfare strategy, a first for the country, which is far behind its European partners in this respect. EURACTIV France reports.
“We are not addressing the subject just because of the horrible images that have been published,” Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll said at the launch of the plan.
But the recent publication of a video by animal ethics group L214, showing shocking violence in an organic certified abattoir in the Basque Country, has brought the subject firmly into the spotlight.
While recognising the animal welfare efforts that have been made in areas other than abattoirs since the beginning of the current presidential mandate, the ministry has also scheduled an urgent inspection of all of France’s 263 abattoirs in April.
Addressing the shortcomings in the welfare of pregnant sows and the species exploited for foie gras, as well as investing in bringing buildings up to standard, had absorbed all of the financial resources available for the issue in France.
A further €350 million of state aid have been made available to encourage a total investment of €1 billion in the renovation or construction of new animal accommodation, as part of the Agriculture Ministry’s animal welfare measures.
Criminal sanctions for abattoir managers
For Brigitte Gothière from L214, the surveillance of abattoirs is insufficient, because “800 million chickens, five million cows and 25 million pigs are killed in France each year”.
While the minister supports this ambitious new plan, the resources allocated to it are modest: Paris plans to create just 60 positions per year for the veterinary surveillance of abattoirs.
“But it is not just a question of money,” the minister said, specifying the criminal prosecution element of the strategy.
Criminal penalties for animal mistreatment will be introduced under the Sapin II law for transparency and the modernisation of the economy, aimed specifically at abattoir managers.
Under current rules, the employees and managers of abattoirs can be notified of contraventions of the law, but in practice this measure is hardly used. What the government wants now is to be able to create an observer position in each abattoir and to protect employees that blow the whistle on animal mistreatment.
France lagging far behind other countries
France has a history of dragging its feet on animal welfare issues, compared to its European partners. The lack of interest is particularly visible in the European Parliament, where French MEPs have been conspicuously quiet on the subject, especially in comparison to some of their Nordic colleagues.
But this attitude can also be seen in the infringement procedures launched against the country: in 2014 the European Commission opened an infringement procedure against France for flouting the ban on keeping pregnant sows in cages.
At the Council of the EU, the French position has always been to obstruct animal rights legislation, under both left and right wing presidencies. Thanks to this unproductive attitude, an initiative championed by Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands has been stuck in the institution for two years.
This package of measures to improve animal welfare regulation and awareness was first blocked by France in 2014. As a compromise, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands this February proposed the creation of a European platform for animal welfare within the Commission’s Directorate General for Health, to which France proposed the addition of free-range farming as a way to ensure animal welfare.
A lesser evil compared to vegetarianism?
“If we fail to act, the risk is that everyone will become vegetarian,” the minister warned on Monday (4 April).
L214 denounced this attitude. “The so-called mobilisation on animal welfare is just a communications trick aimed at halting the rise of vegetarianism,” said Gothière. Unlike in other European countries like Germany and Italy, vegetarianism is very uncommon in France.
Agricultural organisations like the French National Federation of Farming Unions (FNSEA), which took part in the elaboration of the government’s plan, cry wolf whenever they hear of vegetarianism.
Christiane Lambert, the vice-president of the FNSEA, told AFP she was happy with the plans. “The proposal to extend the animal protection rules to small abattoirs is a way to make all people take responsibility for their actions,” she said. This measure has in fact been compulsory for the last three years under the 2009 European regulation animal protection at the time of killing.
The objectives of the EU animal welfare platform are to:
- facilitate the exchange of experiences and best practices;
- give visibility to initiatives carried out to promote animal welfare;
- develop partnerships amongst stakeholders;
- identify best practices in member states;
- allow networking, including the sharing of knowledge and information on research and development;
- boost stakeholders' commitment to contribute to the promotion of animal welfare;
- discuss the improvement of animal welfare legislation.