The welfare of farm animals

The European Court of Auditors, in 2018, concluded an investigation into animal welfare in the European Union. In its report, entitled Animal Welfare in the EU: closing the gap between ambitious goals and practical implementation it concluded that while substantial progress had been registered in addressing stakeholders’ concerns, weaknesses still persist.  There is scope for a better assessment of lessons learnt when examining how strategic objectives on animal welfare are being implemented across the European Union.

When the EU Farm to Fork Directive was being drawn up, the EU Commission committed itself to a revision of its farm animal welfare legislation by the end of this year.

EU legislation on farmed animals regulates their welfare at three different stages: at a farm level, during their transport as well as during their slaughter.

The first step undertaken by the European Commission was in drawing up of a fitness check of existing EU farm animal welfare legislation. The resulting 310-page report deals with most aspects of EU animal welfare legislation. It also refers to the European Citizens’ Initiative known as The End of Cage Age supported also by the European Parliament.

One of the recently approved MEP election candidates in Malta deemed it appropriate to point his finger at one of a multitude of issues raised in this fitness report of EU farm animal welfare legislation. He identified the issue of egg-laying hens with particular emphasis on the cages currently in use, whether and when these will be banned and the impact of such a decision on the local egg industry. He rightly emphasised that when the EU eventually proceeds to draft its proposals on this matter it should ensure that assessment of the impacts of these proposals on a scenario similar to the local one is not missed. The issues of small farms and high cost of land uptake are basic considerations which cannot be ignored when considering the impacts of any revision.

Properly assessing such impacts is of paramount importance. This is what is normally done in such situations, and we earnestly hope that this specific case will not be an exception!

In fact, an inception impact assessment on the EU Commission’s plans on farm animal welfare, drawn up in July 2021, emphasises that: “The conditions for the prohibition of cage systems will be studied, taking into account animal welfare benefits, the social and economic needs of the farming sector in the EU, including of small farms, the international dimension, including trade aspects, and environmental aspects. In particular, this will assess the feasibility of working towards the proposed legislation entering into force from 2027 taking into account the support to farmers in this transition – financially and otherwise.” So far this is anything but a one-size fits all attitude!

The arguments raised with reference to egg-laying hens should be taken up in respect of all areas of animal welfare in the agricultural sector. This should be done in order to identify whether, as a country, we ought to wait for others to review our practices and shortcomings or else whether we should take the initiative ourselves to improve the welfare of farm animals, without any prompting.

The Department of Agriculture should take the initiative. Even the Commissioner for Animal Welfare has a role to play in the national debate on the welfare of farm animals.

Would it not be much better if the local agricultural sector reorganises itself adequately, such that it can be proactive rather than reactive in all issues of farm animal welfare initiatives?

This is what sectoral auditing, if properly funded and managed, leads to, in other jurisdictions.

The revision of EU farm animal legislation has been on the cards for quite some time. Instead awaiting its happening it would be much better if we start adequate preparation. If we are once more unprepared, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 26 February