Animal welfare - why is this important?

Animal welfare is being systematically undermined in multiple ways and tackling the wellbeing of animals requires us and Europe as a whole to undertake a multidimensional approach.

Globalized agriculture is the leading cause of animal suffering: more than 40% of the value of EU agricultural goods come from animal products, including food produced from hundreds of millions of cattle, dairy cows, pigs, broilers and laying hens, among others. Over one million animals are transported every day in Europe, most of them for slaughter. Unweaned offspring are the most affected by this cruelty.

Meat production and consumption have become increasingly unsustainable for the resilience of the agricultural system as a whole. As a result, it has a devastating impact on the climate, on our planet, on the farmers, on public health and on the living conditions of animals, who are often reared without any regard for their welfare to meet the increasing demands of the market.

The issue of animal welfare and the resilience of the agriculture system are even more relevant if we consider the way the food needed to feed livestock is produced: 80% of forest destruction all over the world is caused by intensive production of soybeans, palm oil, cocoa and other raw products. The EU-Mercosur trade agreement that contributes to the deforestation of the Amazon forest is a clear example.

The EU is the second-largest global importer of soybeans (and their derivatives), with 33 million tonnes arriving in the continent every year. Most of this soy is not destined for human consumption, but for feeding animals on intensive farms. This leads to soil degradation, massive decline in biodiversity, acceleration of climate crisis and to exceeding the critical limits of the earth's resilience and food sovereignty.

In the last decade, trade in animal products has almost doubled in Europe and it has an immense and detrimental impact on animal welfare and exposes consumers to substandard animal products without providing them the necessary information, including labeling of the products, to make informed purchasing choices.

There are substantial concerns among citizens about the prophylactic use of antibiotics in intensive livestock farming that promotes the development of antibiotic resistance and the spread of resistant bacterial strains. This is a serious problem for both public health and the environment.

While Europe and the whole world is waging a battle against the spread of Covid-19, live animal transport also played a key role in the spread of the virus across the EU.

As EU Member States closed borders to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and more controls were put in place on the movement of goods, we have seen kilometres of traffic jams at the borders, for example between Germany and Poland, or Bulgaria and Turkey.

Animal transporters were also stuck in these traffic jams. Squeezed together for hours and hours in trucks, chickens, cows and pigs were moving from one country to another all over the EU and neighbouring countries. Drivers exposed to immense stress also constitute a major channel for the spread of Covid-19.[1]

The change we want to see

Clearly there is an urgent need to improve the current EU legislation to reduce and replace live animal transport and make sure that the farm animal welfare goes hand in hand with sustainable agriculture policies. Therefore, we call on EU institutions and Member States to:

  • Ensure that farm animal welfare goes hand in hand with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Improve the current EU legislation to reduce and replace live animal transport with frozen meat and to better enforce the existing rules across the EU
  • Consider animal welfare as an important factor linked to food sovereignty and resilience of the food chain system when developing or reviewing any future farming policies
  • Provide support to small and medium farmers in the just transition to radically transform the way livestock farming works and the welfare standards of products that we eat
  • Ensure that all animal products are labelled, so citizens can easily identify farming systems and methods of slaughter
  • Revise the current Regulation 1/2005 aiming at harmonising standards of animal welfare across the EU
  • Reverse the trend of factory farm proliferation through the implementation of higher farm animal welfare standards, as an efficient alternative to the current massive use of antimicrobials.

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