At an international gathering of experts in Brussels to mark the mid-point of the EU’s 2012-2015 animal welfare strategy conference, officials said they were so far undecided whether any additional proposals would be a new EU-wide law or “non-binding” guidance and other activities.
“Ensuring the welfare of animals is a key priority for the European Commission and I’m delighted to discuss the future of the animal welfare strategy with a wide range of responsible and committed actors,” EU health commissioner Tonio Borg told the conference yesterday (12 February).
It was also staged to note the 40th anniversary of the EU’s first laws on the protection of animals in slaughterhouses.
And while there was satisfaction that the EU was moving ahead with the new proposed law, participants warned that changes would not come in the short term, because impact assessments would be required and debates on authorising the legislation continue.
It is a major overhaul of EU animal welfare laws, integrating 25 existing EU current regulations and directives into one regulation and repealing more than 40 laws deemed obsolescent.
The new law sets general livestock welfare principles and rules, which are risk-based and more preventive than current measures, with a greater weight on biosecurity, surveillance, reporting, and a clearer policy on vaccine use.
Conference participants also welcomed that earlier EU bans on using sow stalls have meant that 12 million female pigs now enjoy a better life.
There was a lengthy discussion about pigs’ castration, deemed cruel and even reducing meat quality, with most delegates opposing the practice and demanding it should be banned across the EU.
Delegates also flagged the EU’s ban on conventional cages for laying hens, which has improved the health of 360 million laying hens and greatly improved transport conditions for animals, they said.
Several experts raised issues of whether there should be a better balance between meat-eating and other kinds of consumption.
Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity (Italy), emphatically believes there should be: “Slow Food has to overcome the widespread fear of vegetarianism,” he said, blaming restaurants for maintaining “a radio silence” on questions of animal welfare. “They never talk about it,” he added. “Yet the scandalous fact is that chicken is so cheap – cheaper than bread.”
To make a straw test of whether changing eating patterns were moving against meat consumption, the chairman invited audience members to declare whether they were carnivores. An overwhelming majority declared in meat’s favour.