Currently there is no specific animal welfare legislation for a long list of animals: for dairy and beef cattle beyond six months old, sheep and goats, the parent birds of broiler chickens and laying hens, pullets, turkeys, ducks and geese, quails, farmed fish, farmed rabbits, dogs and cats.
This means, in practice, that hundreds of millions of terrestrial farmed animals and billions of farmed fish belonging to different species are only protected by the general provisions of Directive 98/58/EC, also known as the “General Farm Animals Directive”. 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”, a recent report by the European Commission shows that such generic rules are not easy to enforce in practice.
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. As far as dairy cows are concerned, reports show that their welfare 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 the focus on high milk yields are also reasons for concern.
The Broiler Directive excludes smaller farms and establishments that breed parent stock, despite an EFSA opinion stating that providing stimuli such as perches and raised nest boxes is 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.
Sheep and goats, as well as beef cattle, are also only covered by Article 3 of the General Farm Animals Directive. They often suffer lameness and metabolic diseases, with lameness classified by EFSA among the three major animal welfare challenges for sheep.
Under EU law, 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.
Ducks and geese, farmed for meat and particularly for foie gras, are not protected by species-specific provisions.
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.
EU CITIZENS THINK PROTECTING THE WELFARE OF FARMED ANIMALS IS IMPORTANT
RABBITS ARE REARED FOR SLAUGHTER EACH YEAR