Short-sighted decisions could compromise animal welfare and environmental ambitions


Short-sighted decisions could compromise animal welfare and environmental ambitions

27 March 2024
Farmers’ demonstrations in Brussels are a reflection of the deep flaws in our food systems. Discussions at the latest AGRIFISH Council reveal that we need to concentrate our efforts on creating a more sustainable and humane food system.

On 25th March the EU’s environmental ministers intensively discussed the first European Climate Risk Assessment, which highlighted the risk of climate change in Europe and emphasises the need to prioritise resilient farming practices, and the EU’s 2040 targets, which omitted agriculture’s role in emissions’ reduction. Several ministers challenged this omission, with Irish Minister Eamon Ryan noting that the “biggest risk is the lack of political will”. 

Despite this, the AGRIFISH council the following day had on its agenda the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy,  including the dismantling of many environmental requirements obtained after years of negotiations. These short-sighted decisions could compromise EU environmental and animal welfare ambitions and are at odds with talks on climate targets.

Relaxing environmental conditionality in agriculture is a step in the wrong direction. The European Commission (EC) should focus instead on a shift towards a fairer and more equitable food system where farmers are rewarded for public goods, and this can go hand and hand with respect for the animals and for the planet. We need to raise fewer animals but in higher welfare systems as part of organic and other agroecological approaches in farming. The transition also needs to be supported by fostering food environments that enable a dietary shift towards more plant-based food. This way we can safeguard the environment, biodiversity and ensure the livelihood of farmers. 

Pending animal welfare legislation is critical

In this transition to a fairer food system, the promised animal welfare legislation is also critical: reviewing the two-decade old animal welfare acquis will allow to ensure more level playing field; among EU farmers but also with third countries’ producers as import requirements could be introduced. At present, 400 different rules on the welfare of farmed animals create significant discrepancies, while ambitious and harmonised rules at EU level could address the demands by millions of EU citizens calling for better protection. New and simplified rules would help farmers to make informed, future-proof decisions when it comes to investments, allowing transitions with adequate support, as well as fair competition.

During a follow-up to a symposium organised by the Belgian Presidency in January, Call to Care for Animal Welfare, Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and France called on the EC to come forward with the pending legislation on animal welfare. Germany called for action on the successful ECIs that call for a ban on cages and on fur farms in Europe.