For the first time ever, fish welfare has been the subject of a debate during the Plenary session of the European Parliament – resulting in Commissioner Neven Mimica affirming that animal welfare has to be integrated into the long-term development of EU aquaculture.
39 MEPs from across the spectrum of political groups asked in today’s plenary debate why, in spite of calls from industry and Parliament to do more, the Commission has not taken any action to improve fish welfare. They called for a legislative proposal that harmonises standards across EU aquaculture, and for support into research concerning the needs of fish at different stages of the farming process. The importance of these measures for the fish, for meeting the expectations of consumers, and for supporting European aquaculture were repeatedly highlighted.
“The MEPs trust that the Plenary debate today is a first step towards real consideration for fish welfare by the Commission,” said MEP Eleonora Evi, member of the Animal Welfare Intergroup. “It’s high time we had a proposal from them that reflects researchers’ findings on fish sentience, as well as the consensus of citizens, and which is able to have a profound effect on broken industry practices.”
The oral question that initiated today’s debate – and the Commissioner’s response – followed a study by the Commission on the welfare of farmed fish during transport and slaughter. The study identified shortcomings in the achievement of the international standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for the transport of common carp, and concluded that in the case of slaughter, only a minority of the EU’s aquaculture sectors achieve the international standards established by the OIE.
Other studies and discoveries back this up. Mass mortality, sea lice infestations and disease are ‘endemic’ on Scotland’s salmon farms, according to a 2018 report by OneKind. In the same year a shocking investigation by Essere Animali uncovered terrible conditions on Italian ‘factory farms’ for fish, and Compassion in World Farming and L214 revealed similar cases in several Mediterranean countries.
The Commission’s report that followed their own study concluded that standards are failing across Europe, but didn’t make any of the proposals necessary for change. In passing up the opportunity to introduce regulations, the Commission maintains that improvements in fish slaughter practices can equally be achieved by voluntary measures, and that any rules would be best made at Member State level – but today’s debate highlighted the lack of progress seen in respect to such voluntary measures.
In 2009, EFSA recommended the urgent developing of stunning technology for sea bass and sea bream in particular, and in 2018 the Commission found this technology in use in third countries but not in any of the EU’s major producers. Regulations are seen to be effective in several European countries, and MEPs, Member States and voluntary certification bodies have continued to call on the Commission to introduce rules at the EU level.
“We will hold the Commission to their recognition that regulations are needed for fish increasingly kept under intensive conditions in industrial farming systems,” said Reineke Hameleers, Director at Eurogroup for Animals. “For farmed fish we want to see, at the very least, binding guidelines for keeping and handling fish, species-specific rules on slaughter and transport, reports on the number of fish being farmed, and more research on their welfare needs.”
Douglas Waley, Fish Welfare – Programme Leader
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