Food firms join calls for new animal welfare legislation for the European Union

September 22, 2023

European food companies, food trade organisations and food researchers have signed an open letter calling on Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, to introduce new animal welfare legislation during her current term in office.

Fediaf, the trade association for the pet food sector in Europe, along with food companies and organisations such as Foodtech of Poland and Slow Food Italy are among the many signatories.

The letter calls on the European Commission “to stay true to the commitments taken in the EU Farm to Fork Strategy” to publish a draft proposal to revise welfare legislation.

“The current animal welfare legislation is outdated and in need of an urgent update to respond to societal expectations and scientific evidence, both of which have evolved dramatically while EU animal welfare rules have largely remained unchanged,” the signatories wrote.

Issues related to how animals are reared as part of the European food system has taken on additional prominence in recent years in part thanks to a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to “End the Cage Age”.

In July 2021, after receiving the ECI petition signed by 1.4 million people, the European Commission agreed to bring in legislation to ban the use of cages in the 27-member bloc.

At the time, it was announced that the commission would bring in legislation by the end of 2023 to phase out and then ban the use of cages.

In their new letter, the signatories say that existing legislation “does not reflect current scientific knowledge” and, as a result, is unable to guarantee acceptable welfare levels.

Food firms join calls for new animal welfare legislation for the European Union

Photo: Zoe Schaeffer / Unsplash

During the past quarter of a century, they say, more than 181,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers on animal welfare have been published and, given this fact, existing directives and regulations are outdated.

“The latest European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinions also show that, at present, animal welfare legislation is no longer fit for purpose,” they wrote.

“Furthermore, EFSA has also highlighted the need for clearly defined, measurable and harmonised on-farm animal welfare indicators and concluded that improvement would be difficult to achieve without these guidelines.”

As reported by SIAL Paris Newsroom earlier this year that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said that higher standards of welfare for, for example, pigs and poultry could bring benefits to consumers.

Not keeping the likes of pigs in cages and banning painful mutilations can make the animals healthier, according to the EFSA.

The EFSA’s scientific opinions offered, the organisation said at the time, “a scientific basis to support the ongoing revision of the European Union’s animal welfare legislation”.

The signatories to the letter say that animal welfare protections throughout the production chain contain “critical areas of collective concern that can no longer be overlooked”.

Food firms join calls for new animal welfare legislation for the European Union

Photo: Alexandre Lallemand / Unsplash

In addition, they say that existing legislation could be difficult for the EU member states to enforce.

“Delay in the release of updated animal welfare legislation will cost European farmers and food businesses,” they added.

“A revised EU animal welfare legislation will not only benefit the animals. It will also offer a level playing field for businesses across Europe, particularly the ones that have already made animal welfare commitments.”

Farmers are being forced by market forces, environmental considerations and outdated infrastructure to decide on their next round of investments in farm renovations and whichever system adopted “will have an enormous impact on animal welfare for decades to come”.

“A revised animal welfare legislation will provide guidance and security needed to make decisions that are fit for the purpose of higher welfare, but also fit for the future of businesses,” the letter stated.

“Such revised legislation will also constitute a financial guarantee when it comes to getting loans for higher welfare investments, as well as better financing opportunities.

“Furthermore, provided that the new animal welfare rules apply to imported products, EU farmers will benefit from fair competition when placing products in the European market.”

Stronger legislation will “complement” the Farm to Fork strategy’s efforts to make the European food system fair, healthy and more sustainable.

A wide range of experts have signed the letter, including Dr Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, a conservation organisation.

Main photo: Zoe Schaeffer / Unsplash

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