4 October is World Animal Day, a day when extra attention is paid to the welfare of all animals. Also within the European Union, there is an increasing focus on the welfare of both domesticated and wild animals. “Nevertheless, it would help to appoint an EU Commissioner for Animal Welfare to ensure that all animals in the Union can live a dignified life,” Eurogroup for Animals CEO Reineke Hameleers argues.
Animal welfare is an important concern for European Union citizens. In addition to Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty, which recognises animals as sentient beings, and EU legislation to protect animal welfare and nature conservation, member states can propose stricter rules. That such rules are desirable is demonstrated by the results of Eurobarometer surveys, which show that European citizens care about animals and would like to see animal welfare improved through clear legislation, effective policies and the allocation of sufficient resources.
According to Eurogroup for Animals, an advocacy group working within Europe to improve animal welfare standards, an Animal Welfare Commissioner could ensure more ambitious policies.
“We hope that the next Commission will appoint a Commissioner with an explicit competence for Animal Welfare in addition to Health and Food Safety, including in the job title,” Eurogroup for Animals CEO Reineke Hameleers says. “The current Commissioner for Health and Food Safety is already partly responsible for animal welfare. But the Commissioner for Agriculture and the Commissioner for the Environment also have animal related policies in their portfolios. Therefore, animal welfare is often a lost child.”
“We advocate an official enshrinement in the Commissioner’s title so that the subject is more prominent on the European agenda. That way, it is also clear who bears responsibility,” Hameleers argues. “In the present context, the Commissioner’s responsibility would thus become for “Health, Food Safety and Animal Welfare.”
EU animal welfare legislation has changed since 1974, but the approach of EU institutions has so far been inconsistent, contributing to the problem of poor enforcement in several areas. Currently, the EU is responsible for all animals kept for commercial purposes, including farm animals, companion animals and laboratory animals. Animals in the wild are also covered by regulations including species protection.
“There is legislation coming up that will consider the protection of all animals kept for commercial purposes,” Hameleers knows. “And that is necessary, because there are still many animals that could use extra attention. Just think of fish, which are increasingly farmed throughout the European Union, but for which welfare attention remains limited. Nevertheless, much progress has been made, although there is always room for improvement.”
“We hope to have four new regulations next year, on transport and the protection of kept animals. Also on the table is the stunning and killing of fish, a subject that has so far received too little attention. Finally, product labelling is on the agenda.”
With the #EUforAnimals campaign, which was initiated by the Belgian animal protection organisation GAIA , Eurogroup for Animals together with more than 50 animal rights and animal protection organisations in Europe, aims to raise awareness of the importance of appointing such a Commissioner.
183 MEPs and 183,000 citizens
Earlier this year, around 150 MEPs already supported two oral questions, the most signed ever on the European Parliament table, for the appointment of a European Commissioner with explicit responsibility for Animal Welfare. Meanwhile, that number has risen to 183 MEPs and nearly 183,000 citizens have signed the online petition calling for an Animal Welfare Commissioner.
That mentioning animal welfare in the title can have a positive effect is illustrated by Belgium’s Animal Welfare ministers, which made their appearance in 2014 when animal welfare shifted as a competence from the federal to the regional level.
“The Animal Welfare ministers in Belgium are very effective,” Hameleers emphasises. “These ministers carry responsibility and can be held accountable for it.”
Because it is a regional competence, Belgium has three Animal Welfare ministers, which Hameleers says is also an advantage.
“The regions encourage each other to act. When the minister in Flanders puts something on the agenda, you can clearly see that this also stimulates Wallonia and Brussels to think about it. Therefore, it is important at the political level to be able to give someone responsibility for animal welfare in order to make faster and more effective progress,” Hameleers concludes.