While the EU is now pushing to include Sustainable Food System (SFS) chapters - which contain animal welfare provisions - in its trade agreements, the link between animal welfare and sustainability is still not mainstreamed throughout all EU trade measures.
With the publication of the Trade for All strategy, the EU put sustainability at the heart of its trade policy. Recent EU FTAs contain Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters, based on which the EU cooperates with its trade partners on a wide range of issues, ranking from climate change to labour rights. Yet, these chapters do not contain any mention of animal welfare, or any provisions on sustainable agriculture. The von der Leyen’s Commission has mainstreamed the achievements of SDGs throughout all portfolios, including trade policy, and with the publication of the Green Deal’s Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity 2030 strategies, there are increasing discussions on how to ensure that trade policy supports the completion of SDGs.
The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which contains the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), states “We envisage a world […] in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living creatures are protected.”
Protecting animal welfare is thus essential to sustainable development in its own right. It is also complementary to a number of other aspects of sustainable development. Among the SDGs, several are either directly connected to animals or cannot be achieved without addressing animal welfare-related issues. An obvious exemplification of these interconnections is the spread of intensive farming. Highly industrialised animal production systems have had devastating effects on both the welfare of the animals exploited and on the environment, as they lead to water and ground pollution, deforestation, and thus to a sharp increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Production systems with the potential to provide higher animal welfare conditions are also more likely to have a lesser impact on the environment, the climate and livelihoods.
Ensuring that animal welfare is considered when discussing SDGs or sustainability in general in the context of trade policy is important as, in view of the growing challenges the world is facing - such as the climate crisis, the spread of zoonoses and antimicrobial resistance - it is of utmost importance to avoid animal welfare is traded off in the pursuit of compromised solutions.