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A new Animal Welfare Strategy Paper: European Commission seeks quality upgrade
The European Commission yesterday adopted a new four-year strategy (2012-2015) that aims to further improve the welfare of animals in the European Union.
"The recent coming into force of the "laying hens" legislation has shown that problems persist in animal welfare in several Member States. Some efforts are being made, but many issues need to be tackled in a different way in order to achieve more sustainable results. The new strategy will permit appropriate flexibility allowing operators to attain the necessary welfare standards by different routes. Optimising policy coherence and market transparency in a comprehensive animal welfare legislative framework will minimise real or perceived tensions between welfare and economics. Animal welfare measures need to be cost-effective. The proposed dedication of resources to education and training is expected to be highly cost-effective, economically and in welfare terms." EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, John Dalli, said.
The need for change
EU Animal Welfare legislation, developed in response to contingencies and political demand over the past 3 decades, is often detailed and sector specific but sporadic in its coverage. Uneven application of these rules in the member States makes for an uneven playfield in this important economic sector. Viewed against the background of the diversity of climatic, terrain and farming systems in which it must be applied, this area of European law calls for change.
The new Strategy was adopted in the form of a Commission Communication to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee.
Why problems persist
The Commission Communication identifies the lack of enforcement of EU legislation by Member States in a number of areas as one of the major issues adversely affecting animal welfare in the EU. Another brake on full and even implementation is the fact that the market does not provide sufficient economic incentives for compliance.
The Communication also notes that many of the parties involved lack sufficient knowledge about animal welfare, while it points out gaps in EU legislation which make it harder to ensure adequate welfare conditions for some categories of animals.
To address these issues and concerns, the Strategy provides for a two-pronged approach: a proposal for a comprehensive animal welfare law and a reinforcement of current actions. The legislation to be proposed is expected to promote an innovative approach focusing on actual welfare outcomes instead of mechanistic inputs, and to increase the focus on the education and professional standards of all parties concerned.
The second element proposes a reinforcement and the optimisation of current Commission actions: enhancing tools to strengthen Member State compliance with the legal requirements; boosting the already existing international co-operation on animal welfare issues; providing consumers with better information, and performing studies where animal welfare appears to encounter the most problems.
The Commission first adopted an Animal Welfare Strategy in 2006. The Community Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2006-2010, grouped the various aspects of EU policy on animal welfare governing the keeping of billions of animals for economic purposes.
The new Strategy builds on the old one and, in particular, on lessons learned during the five-year implementation period of the first Action Plan. The necessity of a new strategy becomes all too obvious with a glance at the importance of animals in our daily lives.
The farming sector is the largest, as far as use of animals is concerned. In farms across the EU, there are about two billion birds (chickens for meat production, laying hens, turkeys, ducks and geese) and three hundred million mammals (cows, pigs, sheep, etc.). The pet population is also quite large in the EU. It is estimated that there are about one hundred million dogs and cats in the Union. The annual value of livestock farming in the EU is estimated at approximately 150 billion euros. The Union's contribution to support animal welfare is estimated at 70 million euros a year, either directed to farmers as animal welfare payments under rural development programmes or dedicated to other activities related to animal welfare, such as research, economic studies, communication, training and education etc.
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