Fabian Demicoli

Animal Welfare

The draft "Communication on Animal Welfare labelling and the establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals" aims to promote an informed debate and to provide transparent information on animal welfare in husbandry production.

According to the Commission, such a label could make it easier for consumers to identify and choose welfare friendly products and provide an incentive for industry to promote their products accordingly when they voluntarily apply higher welfare standards.

Both the analysis of the outcome of the Eurobarometer surveys 2005 and 2006 (http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/welfare/survey/index_en.htm) and the feasibility study performed to support the impact assessment report lead to the conclusion that animal welfare labelling, based on sound scientific knowledge and assessed on the basis of harmonised requirements, can enable consumers to make informed purchasing decisions and make it possible for producers to benefit from market opportunities.

Due to the fact that European consumers frequently complain that they lack information on animal welfare, the Community Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2006-2010 (http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/welfare/actionplan/actionplan_en.htm) suggests the development of standardised animal welfare indicators, in order to provide for a science-based tool to make animal welfare measurable, more enforceable and easier to communicate to people. The EU funded project "Welfare Quality", will serve as a basis for the elaboration of animal based scientific indicators. According to the Commission, this could lead to a system to classify animal welfare that could be useful to support product labelling and provide consumers with transparent and reliable information. In this context, a network of centres for the protection and welfare of animals could constitute a concrete option to provide technical support for the further development of the system.

Analyses of the Options

The option Mandatory labelling of compliance with EU legislative minimum standards has been discarded from further assessment in this Communication since the overwhelming view from consumers, farmers, processors retailers and others was opposed to such a label.

The option "General guidelines for the establishment of animal welfare labelling and quality schemes" is perceived by the main stakeholders to provide low added value as regards consumer information and is therefore also not further assessed in this Communication.

According to the feasibility study, the majority of the stakeholders consulted supported the following conclusions:

The creation of a European mandatory animal welfare label is not a preferred option.

Information on animal welfare should be clear and easy to understand.

Labelling initiatives for animal welfare would be more effective if associated with comprehensive information campaigns to inform consumers in a more general way and increase preference for high quality products.

There is a need for "standardisation" and maintenance of the instruments to assess animal welfare in the EU, to ensure transparency and scientific investments.

The importance of assessing the welfare of animals in a transparent manner to facilitate trade of high quality products.

There should be better coordination of existing resources in the whole area of animal protection to provide for efficient scientific coordination, transparent enforcement and reduction of costs related to implementation.

The application of a certification scheme developed with the contributions of all relevant stakeholders and integrated with other existing schemes will facilitate the process to ensure synergies between animal welfare labelling schemes and other existing certification policies (as the labelling of organic products).

Conclusion

According to the Commission a strategic approach to addressing the needs identified by stakeholders and the Commission in this communication should include at least the following measures:

The development of harmonised requirements for the use of reserved animal welfare terms through the means of an EU legislative initiative referring to farming systems or to outcome based animal welfare standards, and would improve the information to consumers on specific aspects of animal husbandry.

The creation of a Community animal welfare logo based on harmonised European standards and open for voluntary participation. This measure would allow existing animal welfare schemes to be certified based on harmonised requirements at Community level facilitating transparency.

The establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals (ENRC) based on a mixed approach; meaning that the ENRC is based on a central coordination institute that cooperates with a network of relevant research institutions in the Member States – all recognised by the Community – which take on responsibilities for specific sub-tasks and participate in working groups. In this way, a relatively small centre with a coordinating function would become a focal point for coordination and harmonisation of Community relevant issues in the field of animal welfare, performing its tasks in close collaboration with a network of relevant research institutions in the Member States, officially recognised and with international partners.

 

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