Farm to Fork Strategy: Opportunity for Animal Welfare

"It’s going to be a strong proposal," said the Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans on 22 April in the European Parliament regarding the upcoming 'Farm to Fork Strategy' (F2F), one of the cornerstones of the Green Deal, the EU’s flagship environmental policy. Twice delayed, the F2F Strategy is expected to be released in May. Although not directly involved in food production, Fur Europe looks forward to the publication of the Strategy as it should trigger evaluation and possible revision of the EU animal welfare legislation, according to a version of the draft Strategy leaked in March. Indeed, Fur Europe – which represents the European fur value chain - regards the F2F Strategy as an opportunity to develop coherent and future-proof animal welfare policies in the agri-business. The last available version of the draft leaked on 6th of March is promising "the Commission will evaluate the existing EU legislation with the view to revising it”. Since long before the arrival of the new Commission and the communication around the Green Deal and the F2F Strategy, Fur Europe has been advocating the adoption of a new EU Animal Welfare Strategy, including an animal welfare framework law covering all farmed animals (food and non-food producing animals) at all life stages, to update and replace current legislation. In the context of a future review of the EU legislation on animal welfare, Fur Europe points out that decision-making related to animal welfare should be based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence and facts from the field in order to provide legal protection for high animal welfare standards essential for sustainable animal farming systems. Priority should be given to the development of animal welfare indicators. The particularity of animal-based indicators is that they measure several aspects directly on individual animals. Since the launch of the animal welfare programme Welfur in 2009, the European fur industry has worked with animal indicators as the modern, professional way to monitor different aspects of animal welfare (housing, feeding, health, behaviour). Welfur is based on the principles of the European Commission-funded Welfare Quality® project and has been developed by independent scientists from seven European universities. European fur farms under the WelFur scheme are certified by independent assessors. Fur farms are assessed with 20 different measurements chosen for their reliability and scientific validity. The certification requires three farm assessments, while the maintenance of the WelFur certificate requires one assessment per year. Fur farmers who do not score high enough do not obtain the WelFur certificate. Without the certificate, fur farmers cannot sell their furs via international fur auction houses. So far, 21 fur farms in Europe, less than 1 per cent of assessed farms, have failed to obtain a WelFur certificate. All fur producing countries or regions have a so-called Welfur advisor available for them. These advisors are veterinarians who help fur farmers analyse the WelFur data to improve animal welfare systematically. Likewise, Welfur is part of the self-regulations recognised by the European Commission. Such a recognition implies that the system has been scrutinised for its validity and credibility and therefore qualifies for legal implementation. The EURCAW-Small Animals (or the European Union Reference Center for the Welfare for poultry and other small farmed animals) – which has started operating in 2020, will have the responsibility to introduce animal indicators. Indeed, the comparison of Welfur results from different countries could be helpful for the centre, which is competent for the welfare of fur animals, although its primary focus should be on poultry welfare until 2022. In parallel to EURCAW-Small Animals, Welfur would bring a significant contribution to the work of the EU Platform on Animal Welfare, whose role is to promote an enhanced dialogue on animal welfare issues, which are relevant at EU level among competent authorities, businesses, civil society and scientists. The representation of the fur industry in the Platform should thus be ensured, or at least ad hoc invitations should be guaranteed to interested stakeholders. The F2F Strategy will aim to develop a baseline and indicators on key animal welfare provisions, and the Welfur method offers a good example of an animal welfare programme. Definitely, Welfur and the future revision of the EU animal welfare legislation triggered by the F2F Strategy will be in the coming month major topics of discussion within the Sustainable Fur Forum, the informal platform of discussion in the European Parliament that offers high-level expertise and scientific knowledge on fur related topics to MEPs.