EU Member States have taken the lead today to advance the agenda for fish welfare during the EU Platform on Animal Welfare’s third meeting. As a result, the Platform announced the creation of a new group to work on the welfare of farmed fish. Disappointingly, lack of European Commission ambition blocked any further progress for pig welfare beyond mere legislative enforcement, despite several Member States’ emphasising the importance of enforcing the EU ban on routine tail docking and ending painful surgical castration.
Stewarded by the Greek government, many Member States (including Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Spain), supported the creation of a new dedicated ‘sub group’ of the platform to address fish welfare in aquaculture. This is a major step forward to fish welfare as the group will coordinate, for the first time, representatives of civil society, industry associations and EU governments to look at how farmed fish can be better protected, particularly during slaughter and transport. The decision mirrors the demand for better fish welfare formulated earlier this month by leading fish stakeholders and MEP’s during the first ever high level political event on the topic, against the background of and EU survey evidencing that the majority of EU citizens care about fish welfare.
“Thankfully Member States have once again shown themselves willing to lead where the Commission either cannot or will not.“ said Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals. She expressed particular gratitude to the Greek government for their commitment to advance the welfare of fish, Europe’s ‘Cinderella’ species. Too often ignored, sidelined or forgotten, fish welfare lags far behind that of other animals consumed for food, which was broadly acknowledged during the event both during interventions and subsequent commenting. There are clear (non) legislative opportunities to advance welfare , and all intervening governments and stakeholders agreed this dedicated group will be instrumental to this end.
Earlier in the meeting, the Commission also presented the terms of reference of a new dedicated group to share practices for improving pig welfare. The Commission’s plan is to focus on the proper application of existing EU rules on pig welfare – especially better enforcement of the ban on routine tail docking – and stressed that the group will not work on any of the other major welfare challenges currently faced by pigs on farms across the Union. Several Member States (Austria, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands) and stakeholders strongly voiced their desire to work together towards phasing out the painful surgical castration of pigs. However, the Commission rejected the inclusion of this issue within the new subgroup’s terms of reference, claiming that voluntary initiatives are outside the remit of this Commission-led subgroup, which is entirely centred on better enforcement.
“We are very disappointed that the Commission refused to heed the calls of several Member States and a number of other stakeholders who wanted to see piglet castration included within the final terms of reference for the Commission’s sub group on pig welfare” said Reineke Hameleers when leaving the meeting. She added “Including it would have been a no-brainer – as several Member States are looking into more humane solutions that will need to be harmonised. Additionally, the Commission is carrying out a pilot project on the marketing of meat from non castrated pigs. What better place than the Platform to discuss these aspects?” .
Eurogroup for Animals is determined to ensure that the Animal Welfare Platform is a success and is pleased with the progress that has been made through the Member State-led subgroups so far. Whilst Eurogroup for Animals confirmed its intention to work with the new subgroups, the Commission’s resistance did not affect the organisation’s determination to explore how actions on piglet castration can now be taken forward elsewhere. Eurogroup for Animals will continue to call on the Commission to promote the work of these groups externally and embrace any subgroup achievements.
 The mandate of the EU Animal Welfare Platform (Commission Decision 2017/C 31/12 of 24 January 2017) allows for the discussion and facilitation of voluntary initiatives, however the European Commission so far, has limited the mandates of the two official sub-groups to enforcement of existing legislation, ruling out the consideration of voluntary initiatives.