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Commission says new rules on animal welfare postponed in name of strategic dialogue

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After tabling just a small part of the promised overhaul of legislation on animal welfare, the Commission told the European Parliament plenary on Thursday (14 March) that a revision must rely on a strategic dialogue with stakeholders.

The Commission committed to a general overhaul of the animal welfare legislation in 2020, with proposals expected at the end of 2023. In the end, the bloc’s executive tabled only proposals for stricter rules on animal transport.

The proposals announced but shelved by the Commission, such as stricter rules on cages, change to slaughter rules, and animal welfare labelling, “will have to be thought through in a sustainable way for the agri-food sector,” with “consultation of stakeholders and a sufficient transition period,” European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reform Elisa Ferreira told  the Parliament’s plenary

At the debate, Ferreira replaced Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, who is in charge of the dossier.

The strategic dialogue launched at the end of January by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will be “an ideal forum for these discussions”, she added.

In 2020, the Commission announced a general review of European legislation on animal welfare as part of the Farm to fork strategy.

Although the impact assessment on the proposal passed the Commission’s quality control board last summer, the executive refrained from launching a comprehensive review in the current mandate.

In recent years pressure has grown in the European Parliament and civil society, however, as illustrated by the letter from around a hundred MEPs in September 2023, calling for an urgent review of the legislation, and the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) ‘End the Cage Age’, which has collected more than a million signatures.

Strategic dialogue on animal welfare

During the plenary debate, MEPs were split.

“For the past four years, the Commission has been making fine promises that have not been kept […] What are we waiting for to put an end to animal suffering?” asked Niels Fuglsang (S&D/Denmark), calling for “at least a roadmap, a date, a deadline” for the new legislation.

In response to the Commission’s desire to establish a strategic dialogue, Germany’s Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA) conceded that “animal protection, like environmental protection, has a cost, but is the aim to have cheap meat, regardless of animal suffering?”

While some lawmakers called for progress before the European elections in June, others, like Caroline Roose (Greens/EFA), are already banking on the next term of office:

“I’m no longer speaking to the Commission. Citizens, vote for those who will truly defend animals,” the ecologist said.

Ferrera replied reminding MEPs that two “major pieces of legislation” had been proposed last December, one on animal transport and the other on the welfare and traceability of pets.

Romanian Christian Democrat Daniel Buda (EPP) sided with Ferreira. “We need to draft texts in cooperation with farmers and breeders in order to develop an effective and fair policy.

Beata Mazurek (ECR/Poland), warned that in recent months, farmers have taken to the streets also because of the “unrealistic” animal welfare rules.

Other MEPs, affiliated to the far-right ID group, deplored the fact that in some countries ritual slaughter is allowed.

Patricia Chagnon (ID/France) pointed the finger at products imported from third countries, reared in problematic conditions that cause causing animal suffering and unfair competition for farmers.

Harmonising existing rules

According to the Commission, the lack of harmonisation of regulations within the EU is fragmenting the single market and penalising certain farms.

A report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) published in April 2023 showed that the current rules are applied unevenly, both among member states and regions.

“The appalling images coming out of farms would no longer exist if member states complied with current legislation! It must be enforced,” said Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann (EPP).

Ferreira emphasided that “farmers need to be able to invest and benefit from all market opportunities, which will go hand in hand with improved animal welfare”.

For Spanish MEP Clara Aguilera (S&D), there is also a territorial injustice. Peripheral regions – such as her region of Andalusia – which have a greater need to transport animals, are more affected by European standards, she said.

The Commission told parliamentarians that it had launched work on compliance with the legislation in force.

[Edited by Angelo Di Mambro/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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