Specific animal welfare legislation does not exist at present for certain species.
This translates to hundreds of millions of terrestrial farmed animals only being protected by the general provisions of Directive 98/58/EC, also known as the ‘General Farm Animals Directive’.
Species that are not covered include dairy and beef cattle of at least six months old, sheep and goats, broiler and laying hen parent birds, pullets, turkeys, ducks and geese, quails, farmed fish, farmed rabbits or dogs and cats.
Although this Directive rightly states that “farmers must take all reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of animals under their care and to ensure that those animals are not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury”, an EC report shows that generic rules are not easy to enforce in practice.
Reports show that the welfare of dairy cattle is not sufficiently monitored and that serious problems persist, including lameness, mastitis, cubicle design, flooring, cleanliness, and permanent tethering. The increasing proportion of cows that are never allowed to graze and high milk yields is also reason for concern. Dairy cows are only covered by the General Farm Animals Directive, with the exception of the Calves Directive, which, among other provisions, prohibits the use of confined individual pens for calves after the age of eight weeks.
The Broiler Directive excludes smaller farms and establishments that breed parent stock, despite an EFSA opinion that states that stimuli such as perches and raised nest boxes are beneficial for the welfare of broilers kept for breeding.
Similarly, the Laying Hen Directive does not cover flocks with fewer than 350 hens, pullets (young hens before they start laying), breeding flocks or other species of poultry.
The welfare of farmed fish is covered by EU legislation only during rearing, transport and slaughter. The welfare of wild-caught fish is not covered at all.
Though cats and dogs are some of the most commonly kept animals in Europe - an estimated 99 million and 65 million respectively - there is no species-specific welfare legislation to protect them in EU law.
Ducks and geese, farmed for meat and particularly foie gras, are not protected by species-specific provisions.
Similarly, turkeys have no legislative protection, despite, in the words of Jonathan Safran Foer, suffering practises “just about as bad as anything humans have ever done to any animal in the history of the world” (Eating Animals, 2009, Little Brown).
Rabbits are the second most numerous farmed terrestrial animals in the EU, with more than 340 million reared for slaughter each year.
The industry is outdated, and rabbits are kept almost exclusively in wire cages, without any opportunity to express normal behaviour.
FORCE-FEEDING IN FOIE GRAS PRODUCTION BEGINS WHEN BIRDS ARE
OF EU CITIZENS THINK PROTECTING THE WELFARE OF FARMED ANIMALS IS IMPORTANT
RABBITS ARE REARED FOR SLAUGHTER EACH YEAR
We would like the EC to pass legislation that covers all farmed species, including fish, based on the latest scientific information and current best practise, and supported by robust animal-based indicators.
There should also be more capacity to enforce these rules in the Member States.
Meanwhile, all the issues facing farmed species that are not protected by specific legislation will need to be addressed as a matter of priority in future EU guides to good practice and, eventually, legislation. To demonstrate compliance with the only legislation that currently covers these species, Article 3 of Directive 98/58/EC should be enforced more systematically and strictly by the competent authorities of all Member States.