CAP and animal welfare: Simply incompatible

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Lame or exhausted broiler chicken in an intensive system. [Compassion in World Farming/Flickr]

Livestock production has been at the centre of the intensification in agriculture brought by Europe’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), writes Olga Kikou. These policies have put farmers under pressure, and created conditions for overproduction, she says.

Olga Kikou is European affairs manager for Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), an international NGO working on the welfare of farm animals and sustainable farming and food.

The Common Agricultural Policy has been a major force in shaping EU agriculture through its mechanism for financial support, which accounts for nearly 40% of the EU budget.

Over the years however, the CAP has not produced the desired results in addressing the need for sustainability in our food and farming system. The expansion of monocultures in the countryside, the gradual loss of diverse landscapes, the dependence on chemical inputs for crop production, the decline of wildlife, air and water pollution, soil degradation, the overproduction of grains and an industrialized, intensive animal farming system linked to animal suffering, have all been the end result of policies that increased production through the adoption of a destructive model of farming.

Livestock production has been a central part of this model and has followed the path of intensification aided by the overproduction of grain and the import of additional animal feed from third countries. Over the years, production increased in Europe and so did consumption of animal products. Currently, the levels of meat and dairy consumption in Europe are much higher than the global average.

In order to maintain these high production levels, we export animal products and live animals to third countries and there is constant pressure to open up new markets. Our policies have affected developing countries both in terms of their exports to the EU (animal feed) and their imports from the EU (animal products) in various ways which have created pressures on their own environmental resources and have negatively affected their farmers’ livelihoods.

A recent conference organised by the European Environmental Bureau and BirdLife Europe on New Rural Development Plans and the Environment: The Hidden Truth reflected on how Rural Development in the CAP has not delivered expected results on the environment and has gone in the wrong direction. Moreover, rural development programmes have not significantly supported plans to improve animal welfare.

Animal related agriculture is responsible for a high proportion of overall agricultural activities, through direct animal farming but also through animal feed production. Animal welfare measures were introduced in the CAP on a voluntary basis, over a decade ago. Currently, under Article 5 of Regulation 1305/2013 payments are provided for farmers undertaking animal welfare commitments that go beyond mandatory requirements. Eligible commitments for compensation of farmers relate to areas such as water, feed and animal care in accordance with the natural needs of animal husbandry, housing conditions, outdoor access, and practices which avoid mutilations. Payments can be given annually for a period of 1 to 7 years and improvements of the condition of livestock need to be clearly measurable.

During the previous CAP period 2007-2013, only 0.1% of the CAP budget was spent on animal welfare. Given such small percentage of the overall CAP budget, it is actually doubtful whether animal welfare measures could actually contribute to real improvements through the CAP. Findings provide another picture. Even Agriculture Commissioner Hogan offered a noticeable example of how CAP funds are not delivering on animal welfare, when he visited a pig farm in Romania partly funded by the EU Rural Developments Programme, where tail docked pigs were housed without enrichment materials, clearly in breach of Directive 2008/120 on the welfare of pigs.

The information made available by member states about the current CAP 2014-2020 demonstrated that nearly half of them do not provide for any animal welfare payments and the rest provide for a very miniscule proportion of the overall budget, which is highly inadequate given the need for upgraded standards when raising animals for food production. This complete lack of intention on the part of member states to help improve standards for animal agriculture comes at a time when EU citizens are increasingly becoming aware of the cruel methods used in animal farming, and are caling for an end to animal suffering. The new Eurobarometer study is expected to reflect changing norms and demonstrate increased expectations for high animal welfare standards among European citizens as well as the importance of animal welfare in the public mind.

If the CAP is to drive sustainability and maintain higher levels of animal welfare standards for animal products available in Europe, member states would have to increase the proportion of rural development spending on animal welfare. This measure would have to be instituted on a mandatory basis with a required minimum spending. In addition, the reporting mechanism would need to be improved and be accompanied by detailed information on how these payments are actually spent and their expected outcomes. More inspections of farms in order to ensure compliance with all animal welfare legislation, and penalties in cases of non-compliance, would prove very useful and would show determination for a proper enforcement mechanism.

Animal welfare is not adequately addressed in the CAP. Quite the opposite, the policy has eased the transition to an industrialised and corporate-led model of animal farming and helped create the right conditions for overproduction of many agricultural products negatively affecting the welfare of animals. Subsidies led to overproduction, made animal products more readily available which also led to overconsumption.

Delivering positive outcomes for the environment, animal welfare, farmers’ livelihoods and human health have not been the outcome of the CAP. There is an urgent need therefore for policies that support a move towards more humane and sustainable farming practices across the EU, that would be also linked to food policies and be accompanied by lowering consumption of animal products and increasing intake of plant based foods. The introduction of such measures would eventually lead to a transition towards true sustainability in our food and farming policies, and even address food security issues at a global level

Subscribe to our newsletters