Green Deal puts animal welfare back on the EU’s agenda


Green Deal puts animal welfare back on the EU’s agenda

20 May 2020
Eurogroup for Animals
Press Release
The day has finally arrived: the Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity to 2030 strategies of the European Union’s Green Deal have been adopted. Both contain positive points that suggest the Commission is ready to take action for animals – but will these strategies deliver the concrete changes the EU needs to move away from intensive farming and the exploitation of wild animals and their habitats?

Last week, an open letter from Eurogroup for Animals and its member organisations asked the European Commission to take our recommendations for both strategies on board, and our members also mobilised to drum up support at national level as part of our “Stop Pandemics – Start Here” campaign. 

Indeed, during the preparation of the strategies, the COVID-19 pandemic offered a particularly timely reminder that devastating results can come out of the way we trade, farm and keep animals. Wild and domestic animals have carried viruses and bacteria for millennia, but what has changed is the way we humans interact with them. The legal and illegal wildlife trade, urbanisation and the destruction of wildlife’s natural habitats for agricultural purposes, especially for the intensification of animal farming, are combining to push humans, wildlife and other animals closer than ever before – and heightening the risk of pandemics like the one we’re suffering now.

With the presentation of the finalised texts today, it seems that the Commission has indeed taken most of this to heart. 

The Biodiversity to 2030 Strategy takes many of our recommendations on board, committing to keep existing environmental policies strong and stimulating the enforcement of the Birds and Habitats Directives, with ambitious goals for protecting European species. It also makes a commitment to legally protect a minimum of 30% each of the EU’s land and sea areas, and says that at least 25% of the EU’s agricultural land must be organically farmed by 2030. 

The Commission will propose a further tightening of the rules of EU ivory trade in 2020, and by 2021, it will revise the Action Plan against wildlife trafficking to step up efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade. It states that the EU will enhance its support to global efforts aimed at applying the ‘One Health’ approach, by promoting better protection of natural ecosystems coupled with efforts to reduce wildlife trade and consumption, to improve resilience to possible future diseases and pandemics.

However, to ensure that the strategy is implemented effectively, the Commission should also regulate the legal wildlife trade, which impacts global biodiversity and animal welfare, and poses health risks to EU citizens. An EU-wide ‘Positive List’ for exotic pets, specifying which animal species are suitable and safe to be kept as pets, would offer a much-needed precautionary approach, given the continuous shifts in species and numbers of animals in trade, and would be coherent with the ‘Do No Harm’ principle promoted in the strategy. 

“The document is ambitious,” says Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals. “However, we will be pushing for implementing actions to regulate the exotic pet trade to protect EU consumers, animal welfare and biodiversity. Going by the strategy’s acknowledgment of the ‘Do No Harm’ principle and the fact that any product on the market should comply with EU and international commitments, we hope they’ll be open to the idea. We also urgently need a full ban on the ivory trade, stricter regulation of the legal trade in wildlife, and a EU-wide Positive List.”

As for the Farm-to-Fork Strategy, happily the Commission makes it clear that animal welfare legislation will be revised and broadened, and the revision will have to provide higher welfare standards than existing ones. This is an opportunity for all existing animal welfare laws to be revised, particularly the Transport and Slaughter regulations, but also others such as the Broiler and Pig Directives. This also opens the opportunity   to deliver on the recent ECI “End The Cage Age”, calling for an end to the use of cages in livestock systems, and to include specific animal welfare provisions for species such as cattle. As the strategy makes the link  between legislative change for animal welfare and the aquaculture sector, this is the opportunity to introduce the first species-specific provisions for farmed fish, too.

However, in other respects the strategy is less ambitious. While the Commission accepts that moving to more plant-based diets and less meat consumption is good for health and the environment alike, earlier versions of the strategy proposed an end to promotional measures for meat. The finalised text now says only that the Commission will undertake a review of EU promotional support for agrifood products with a view to enhancing its “contribution to sustainable production and consumption”. We expect this review to lead to a transparent conclusion that meat should not be promoted, and we regret that the language has become so weak in the final version.

The strategy announces the creation of a framework for a sustainable food system, but remarkably a reflection on the role of the intensive livestock industry in the spread of zoonotic diseases is missing. Eurogroup for Animals believes the new framework law should lead to a profound system change including a phase-out of intensive animal farming practices. Although the strategy commits to considering options for animal welfare labelling, there is no mention of method-of-production labelling, which would provide an objective and harmonised framework to support the transition towards higher welfare and sustainable livestock systems. 

The strategy also recognises the detrimental impact imported products can have on the environment in producing countries, calling to avoid the externalising or export of unsustainable practices. The call for EU trade policy to contribute to enhancing cooperation, and particularly to obtaining commitments from third countries on animal welfare, is very welcome.  

“This document is historical in so many ways, opening the door to a potential better world for farm animals in the EU and other parts of the globe. It shows the Commission’s willingness to strengthen animal welfare legislation after years of stagnancy, and that they’re listening to the voices of millions of EU citizens,” says Reineke Hameleers. “Nevertheless, we need systemic change and that needs a lot of determination, as well as resources. The Commission’s plan for a sustainable food system is laudable, but will they also provide additional support to farmers in the transition towards higher animal welfare systems and regenerative agriculture?”

Both strategies recognise that the wildlife trade and intensive farming together add up to more than the sum of their parts, and not just where zoonoses such as COVID-19 are concerned. The Biodiversity to 2030 Strategy states several times that it will work in tandem with the new Farm-to-Fork Strategy and the revised Common Agricultural Policy, and that the Commission will ensure that the CAP’s strategic plans lead to the use of sustainable practices such as organic farming, agro-ecology, and stricter animal welfare standards. Similarly, the Farm-to-Fork Strategy asserts that “the Commission will ensure the implementation of this strategy in close coherence with the other elements of the Green Deal, particularly the Biodiversity strategy”.

The finalised strategies will now be rolled out, with the European Parliament adopting a resolution on the content later this year. At Eurogroup for Animals, our next opportunity will be to influence the European Parliament’s response to the two strategies, so our members will start to mobilise citizens in the days ahead to contact their MEPs and make their voices – and our recommendations – heard.