Animal Welfare

EU Needs Comprehensive Legislation on Animal Welfare


Jun 09 2020 - 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.

Animal Welfare

Animal Welfare Expert: Welfare Cannot Be Assessed Through Checking Walls


May 15 2020 - Resource and management indicators could be used to identify risk factors, but welfare cannot be assessed through checking walls or floors, says Antoni Dalmau, an animal welfare researcher from Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) in Spain. He spent the last 15 years studying the complexity of one of the long-standing issues in farming – how to ensure a quality life for farmed animals. “Animal welfare is a condition of the individual animal, and animal welfare science is more and more about the assessment of the animal’s own experience. Only animal-based indicators can give you an idea about that.’’ The physical and emotional health of an animal as well as its behaviour, known as animal welfare, is at the centre of a long-lasting discussion between policymakers, scientists, and farmers. In recent years, it has also become part of the broader debate about sustainability practices in farming. But before anything else, animal welfare is a question of science. In order to evaluate the wellbeing of farmed animal species, scientists rely on animal-based indicators. They examine the physical and emotional state, the behaviour and even the appearance of an animal to determine the quality of life on the farm. But the process is not straightforward. To get a detailed picture, researchers take into account the so-called resource-based and management-based indicators which measure the environment where animals are bred. According to Mr Dalmau, although they provide important additional information, they cannot be given the same weight the measures which look directly into the animal. “You cannot assess what you are not observing. You are not assessing welfare if you are not using animal-based measures. If you are observing walls, you are assessing walls.” Creating an assessment based on the housing systems, for example, could give simplified and even misleading results, which do to reflect truly animal’s state of wellbeing. According to him, many people prefer these indicators because they are easier to communicate and understand. “NGOs are used to work with resource and management-based parameters because they are easy to apply and to communicate to their funding bodies and society - I don’t allow cages; I don’t allow tail docking; I don’t allow castration; I ask for free-range. This is easy to assess and to communicate.’ Narrowing it down the assessment method jeopardises the scientific objectivity, adds Mr Dalmau. “For most of the people, this means, better. But not for the animals. For them, easier, faster and cheaper is not better. For them, what is better is that their interests and states are taken into account.” According to him, this is also the reason why it is difficult to create one single animal welfare law across Europe. EU policymakers spent the last decade looking into ways to how to create a common framework for animal welfare legislation. Currently, there are not harmonised rules across the continent, and animal welfare is regulated by EU directives while rules in member states vary. More than a decade ago, the European Commission launched the Welfare Quality project in an effort to understand how animal welfare could be quantified. The research project endorsed the animal-based indicators and prompted the creation of protocols for cattle, pigs and poultry. Later, it also laid the groundwork for industry-led, voluntary certification programmes such as WelFur and WELFAIR™ - a livestock farms and slaughterhouses certification programme in Spain covering different animals. The European Union Reference Center for the Welfare for poultry and other small farmed animals is the latest initiative to collect and compare animal welfare data, and possibly help policymakers to create common legislation. According to Mr Dalmau, many expect science to provide a clear and simple, black or white answer about animal welfare, whereas the issue is much more complicated. ‘’Welfare is not present or absent, black or white; it is continuous improvement, and for this reason a good scientific validating and a realistic plan are important.’’ Current animal welfare programmes have been time-consuming and expensive to create. They required scientific knowledge, validating the science, training assessors and carrying out the large-scale inspections. But they also proved it is possible to evaluate and quantify animal welfare through science – knowledge which one day could be useful when the time for common animal welfare law comes.

Animal Welfare

EURCAW-Small Animals is open: WelFur to play a role


Apr 28 2020 - The EURCAW-Small Animals - or the European Union Reference Center for the Welfare for poultry and other small farmed animals - started operating in 2020. Europe’s other small farmed animals are all the fur farmed species, so the centre will have direct impact on European fur farming. EURCAW-Small Animals’ main objective is to provide support to the European Commission and Member States in the official implementation and control of animal welfare regulations. Introducing animal indicators are amongst the responsibilities of the centre, in addition to collection of comparable data on the welfare of animals across Europe for the European Commission. It goes without saying WelFur works along these lines already. Much attention will however be directed to poultry in the first two years of the centre’s existence. "The centre’s main task is to support the national welfare bodies in the Member States and the Commission with officials controls on the welfare and compliance with legal standards. I imagine comparison of WelFur results from different countries would be interesting in the context of the centre," Henrik Steen Møller, Aarhus University said. EURCAW-Small Animals is a consortium formed by the Institute of AgriFood Research (IRTA), the Agence Nationale de Sécurité Sanitaire de l’Alimentation-ANSES (France), the Aarhus Universitet-Institut for Husdyrvidenskab (Denmark), and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Lombardia e dell’Emilia Romagna (Italy).

Animal Welfare

21 Fur Farms Failed to Obtain WelFur Certificate


Apr 08 2020 - Out of 2,787 European mink and fox farms which so far have had the initial three WelFur assessments, 21 farms - corresponding to 0.8 per cent - have failed to obtain a WelFur certificate. Without a WelFur certificate, the farm owners are prevented from selling their pelts at the international fur auction houses. The auctions are the regular marketplace for natural fur pelts, and without access to the market, these farmers are effectively put out of business. Other 57 farms, equaling 2 per cent, failed to obtain a certificate after three assessments. However, by later on passing a so-called 'correction assessment' before which critical issues were brought to order, all of these achieved their certification. "I regret we were not able to get everybody on board. At least it shows the certification scheme works. It’s not our ambition to let go of European fur farmers; it is rather our ambition to educate and guide everybody towards farm practices which supports good animal welfare. We welcome fur farmers back into WelFur if they can demonstrate they have improved their farm or management practices sufficiently," John Papsø, chairman of Fur Europe said. All countries or regions have a so-called WelFur advisor around; typically these are veterinarians working with the national fur breeders’ association. This person’s job is to help fur farmers analyse the WelFur data to improve animal welfare systematically. The WelFur advisor is particularly important to fur farmers who failed the original WelFur assessment because they can help change farmers to pass their correction assessment. Another 152 farms currently have no certification, but most of these are awaiting the third and final assessment before a certificate can be issued.

Animal Welfare

Report against WelFur fails to compromise its scientific basis


Feb 13 2020 - The animal lobby coalition Fur Free Alliance fails to bring anything new to the table in a new report about WelFur. Named 'Why WelFur fails to stop the suffering of animals on fur farms’ the report seeks to discredit WelFur and tie the fur sector's housing system with inherently poor animal welfare. "It's old wine on new bottles. At the end of the day this dispute comes down to values and gut-feelings, but the scientific literature does not support the notion that animals generally don't thrive on fur farms. Actually Fur Free Alliance makes no real attempt to attack the scientific foundation of WelFur either. They know of course, WelFur is very solid science, independent, and bulletproof, so they stay on the well-known slogans," Mette Lykke Nielsen, CEO of Fur Europe said. The report was presented in the European Parliament on 21 January, at the same time as Fur Europe's 'This is Fur' event. Yet, the organisers did not invite the fur sector to engage in an open debate, and this is not doing anything good for the democratic debate, according to Mette Lykke Nielsen. "A collective animal lobby has long ago announced they want a European-wide ban on fur farming, and at the same time they don't want to engage in debate with us. I'm a democrat by heart, so I don't have a whole lot of respect for this attitude, but I understand it's a strategy. It's a way to avoid being confronted with the scientific knowledge that threatens to disturb their ideas about animal welfare," she said. Does Fur Free Alliance's report have no merits at all? "Sure. It represents values that are legitimate in a free democracy, but its conclusions are speculative. The expert who draws the conclusions has never set foot on a fur farm. It's not really serious." Download Fur Europe's answer to the FFA report (pdf). WelFur is developed by independent scientists from European universities, and works on the same principles as the European Commission's Welfare Quality programme. Furthermore, WelFur is endorsed in the EU Database for Self-regulations.  

Animal Welfare

Open Position: WelFur Assistant


Jan 22 2020 - Fur Europe is currently hiring a full-time intern for a duration of either 6 or 12 months starting from 2nd March. The successful candidate will join an informal yet highly professional and collaborative working environment and a dedicated multi-national team and will assist the  Head of WelFur and will work in the field of animal welfare. ABOUT THE POSITION Support in the implementation and management of the WelFur program on the European fox, mink and finnraccoon farms Report to: Head of WelFur Assisting on the day-to-day communication to fur farmers and other stakeholders about the WelFur program Collecting and updating data on the WelFur implementation Developing material for the internal and external website of Fur Europe Assisting the Fur Europe engagement in the IFASA congress and work around this network Managing and arranging WelFur advisor seminars and updates Attending relevant events or conferences and report to Fur Europe members ABOUT THE CANDIDATE Education and experience Bachelor or Master’s degree in agricultural science or similar; Proven knowledge about animal husbandry; Fluency in English is essential; fluency in other EU languages is welcome; Skills Quick learner, ability to grasp complex concepts rapidly; Strong research and analysis skills; Team-player, proactive and inquisitive mindset; Fully familiar with Microsoft software such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint.   ABOUT THE SELECTION PROCESS You can send your CV and cover letter to info@fureurope.eu until Sunday, 9th February at midnight. Candidates will be informed by e-mail if they are accepted to the interview phase shortly after. Interviews are expected to take place in February 2020. Ideally, the contract will start on Monday, 2nd March, for the total duration of 6 or 12 months. The contract will be a convention d’immersion professionelle.

Animal Welfare

Sweden rejects ban on fur farming with reference to scientific facts


Jan 15 2020 - There is no scientific foundation for claiming poor animal welfare in the Swedish mink production, and Minister for Rural Affairs Jennie Nilsson has consequently rejected a ban on fur farming in Sweden. In a debate in the Swedish parliament today the Minister referred to the scientific recommendations of the Swedish Board of Agriculture, published in January 2018. This work was commissioned with the exact purpose of scrutinising the mink production for animal welfare issues and point to new legislation if needed. The Swedish Board of Agriculture did not find a reason to suggest new legislation on the basis of a scientific review of the current literature. Instead, the Board of Agriculture pointed out the improved animal welfare performance in the Swedish mink production since 2012, which has been fuelled by the Swedish fur farmers' own, voluntary health scheme. The industry initiative was also highlighted by the Minister, who stressed the scientific basis of the 2018 recommendations, as well as the importance of legislation based on scientific knowledge: "The Board of Agriculture relied on the Scientific Committee. As a responsible minister, this is an incredibly important tool in such [animal welfare] contexts. I think it is important to make decisions, that to the extent possible is based on scientific facts," she said. Other relevant welfare issues were likewise scrutinised by the Swedish experts. The 2018 study established that the farmed mink is domesticated and cannot be compared to its wild counterpart. Likewise, the study established that swimming water is not an essential need for farmed mink, and found the appearance of stereotypical behaviour is at a very low level, which furthermore cannot be associated with herds, but only individuals. It was further noted that more research is desirable, and the option to utilise the European-wide WelFur programme, that is based on the principles of the European Commission's Welfare Quality programme, for future welfare improvements in the Swedish fur production.

Animal Welfare

The European Fashion Industry buys WelFur Certified pelts


Jan 08 2020 - As the first WelFur certified skins go on sale at international fur auction house Saga Furs in December 2019, brokers buying on behalf of European fashion brands are the most active buyers in the auction room. Blue Frost Fox pelts are effectively the first sourced from WelFur certified European fur farms. Fur broker Alex Tarantola was amongst the 200 international buyers in the audition room who arrived in Helsinki to buy skins. He is noticing a shift in the attitude of the fashion brands he works with when it comes to certified natural fur. "It’s not only increased interest in getting certified pelts. For brands now, certification is a must," says Alex while carefully observing the auctioneers at the podium. ''They need to be covered by a credible certification. And it’s not a matter whether it’s worth more or less. It is a matter of whether they are in or out." Tia Matthews, the Fashion Business Director at Saga Furs, says this is not a surprise. Regardless of whether it is fur or cotton, traceability is still one of the biggest challenges across the complex fashion supply chains. "That’s why brands want to use WelFur skins sourced from European certified farms. It allows them to show their commitment to sustainability and demonstrate that the materials they use could be traced back to sustainable productions." Also on the Asian market, many see the WelFur certification as a means to enhance competitiveness and demonstrate quality, according to Samantha Vesala, Saga Furs’ Asia Business Director. "There is a noticeable difference in the quality of the material depending on where they originate from. Asian brands require certification proof because they want to be able to say that the lots come from Europe." As buyers and brokers follow the prices on the screen and check order papers, farmers sit at the back of the auction room observing. Jari Isosari is amongst them. A third-generation farmer living in Ostrobothnia, a region in Finland living mainly out of fur farming, he says that WelFur helps him to see how to improve his farming practices. "We can show to the people that we have a responsibility toward the animals, and we care about them in the same way as any farmer would."

Animal Welfare

World premiere of certified natural fur pelts


Dec 19 2019 - Fox pelts certified in accordance with the European WelFur standard will be on offer for the first time during the international fur auction at Saga Furs in Helsinki, Finland, 19-20 December 2019. WelFur is the biggest and most comprehensive animal welfare programme ever to be implemented across an entire continent, which count 2,918 European mink and fox farms currently housing 35 million animals. "Consumers today want to know how the products they buy have come about. Animal welfare is an important societal value, it means the world to a lot of people, and we are incredibly proud of European fur farmers setting a new standard for on-farm animal welfare assessment across an entire industry. This has not been done anywhere before. Still, product transparency is clearly the direction society moves towards, and we are proud to be livestock first movers," said Mette Lykke Nielsen, CEO of Fur Europe, a Brussels-based umbrella organisation for the entire European fur industry. WelFur is developed by independent scientists from seven European universities and sets out to establish a reliable, fact-based picture of the level of animal welfare on each fur farm. The farm assessments, as well as the issuing of WelFur certificates, are carried out by independent third-party Baltic Control. The WelFur programme is based solely on the principles and methodology of the European Commission’s Welfare Quality project and has been endorsed in the European Commission’s database for self-regulations. It is the first and only animal welfare programme to be obtained in the database for self-regulations that requires testing against principles of openness, reliability, good faith, monitoring, continuous improvement and inclusiveness. "The independence of the programme has been critical to us from the beginning because as a producer, you cannot reliably assess yourself. I think independent assessments are particularly important when it concerns animals since all animal debates quickly become very heated and emotional," Mette Lykke Nielsen said. The auction sales of WelFur certified fur pelts kicks off in the morning of 19 December. Due to the lengthy manufacturing process of handmade fur products, natural fur products carrying the WelFur certification will only become widely available to consumers from September 2020 onwards.   Facts about WelFur WelFur is based on the principles of the European Welfare Quality project and developed by independent scientists from seven European universities*. External reviewers have secured the conservation of the scientific quality and alignment with the original Welfare Quality project.  All farm assessments are undertaken by independent third-party Baltic Control . Baltic Control is also the sole issuer of WelFur certificates. Animal-based measurements are central in WelFur. These measurements are an indirect way to ask the animals themselves about their well-being. They are widely endorsed by animal welfare experts, albeit they are not yet commonly used in animal welfare assessments. 2,918 fox and mink farms across 22 European countries have been assessed in the period 2017-2019, which concludes the implementation phase. Two percent of the fur farms did not achieve a WelFur certificate. There is an increasing interest of WelFur outside Europe, and the programme is being expanded to individual fur farms outside Europe as well. A WelFur protocol for finnraccoon has been developed following the protocols for mink and fox. The finnraccoon protocol is currently being tested. The first sales of WelFur certified mink will take place at Kopenhagen Fur, Denmark, in February 2020. * University of Eastern Finland, MTT Agrifood Research (Finland), Aarhus University (Denmark), Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, University of Utrecht (The Netherlands), French National Institute of Agronomic Research