EU Needs Comprehensive Legislation on Animal Welfare

The European Fur community welcomes the recent publication of a roadmap for the evaluation of the EU legislation on the welfare of farmed animals. The Fitness Check is part of the actions on animal welfare foreseen by the Farm to Fork Strategy to help the European Commission reflect on what further legislative and non-legislative actions are needed to align the EU’s animal welfare regulatory framework with the objectives of the F2F Strategy and the Green Deal. According to the fur sector, a simplified legislative framework and appropriate communication and information to consumers are the two critical aspects for a successful strategy. Far before the release of the F2F Strategy, Fur Europe has been advocating in favour of a single and comprehensive EU legislative framework for animal welfare. Up to now, the legislation mostly includes general provisions (e.g. Directive 98/58/EC concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes) and some rules regarding species-specific issues but no overarching legislation. Thus, various animal production systems and different parts of the value chain are covered by differing requirements, which has caused a fragmentation of animal welfare rules for livestock. The solution against this fragmentation is the adoption of a single and comprehensive Animal Welfare Framework Law on the model of Regulation (EU) 2016/429 on transmissible animal diseases (‘Animal Health Law’). The latter lays down general and specific rules for the prevention and control of transmissible animal diseases and ensures a harmonised approach to animal health across the EU. Similarly, a comparable Framework Regulation for animal welfare should apply to the entire EU livestock sector to streamline the amount of existing legislative acts and identify a harmonised set of science-based animal welfare principles. This includes clarity of duties and harmonised training for all actors of the value chain (farmers, transporters, vets, competent authorities), a uniform AW assessment methodology and sharing of good practices between the Member States. A new legislative framework will only be effective if it leads to a shift from input-based to output-based indicators. Animal scientists called for adopting animal-based indicators as a way to measure animals’ wellbeing rather than resource-based as they look directly at the individual animal and assess their physical and mental states. The WelFur programme, developed and launched by the fur sector in 2009, is a good example of such an approach. The Welfur certification requires three farm assessments and the maintenance of the certificate involves one assessment per year. It covers all EU fur farms, and without it, fur farmers cannot sell their production via international fur auction houses. Despite total compliance with animal welfare requirements and private industry initiatives like WelFur, often, consumers’ knowledge of animal welfare is not based on the reality of farming systems but prejudices and received ideas. The mismatch is often attributed to the disconnection between the rural and urban world. European farmers rely on adequate communication to help consumers understand fully the animal welfare improvements taking place on farms. Adequate discussion about animal welfare should start with a clear definition and explanations about measuring methods expending beyond emotions and anthropomorphism. In this regard, the EU should take a position in favour of fact-based and science-based indicators for animal welfare. But the Union also has another role; to encourage certification and labelling systems based on science and third-party assessments, on the model of WelFur, through financial and non-financial incentives. Such a move could steer consumers’ purchasing habits through reliable product information and offer a commercial advantage to producers adopting responsible practices. Such a step would be in line with the increased transparency foreseen by the F2F Strategy and is directly linked to the objective of improving animal welfare within the EU livestock sector. Fur Europe will gladly bring its contribution to the European Commission’s fitness check by hoping that Commission will agree that AW is not a cost but an asset. Farmers’ livelihoods depend on the quality of their products, which in turn depends on the good health and welfare farmers provide to animals. This asset requires an overarching Animal Welfare Framework Law relying on science and fostering transparency and labelling schemes.