Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Brussels, 9 December 2021

“Check against delivery”

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured by your invitation to address this conference, on a topic that is very important for me personally and, I believe, for everybody in the European Union.

As many of you know, ensuring the wellbeing of our animals takes much time and effort.

In the European Union, we have around

    • 143 million pigs,
    • a herd of 77 million cattle,
    • roughly 62 million sheep;
    • and not to mention many varieties of poultry and other farm animals.

So the time and effort needed to ensure their welfare is immense!

How the CAP supports animal welfare

For this reason, the Common Agricultural Policy provides a range of effective tools and financial supports, to help farmers take care of their animals.

This support will be more effective in the new CAP, which was adopted by the European Council just last week.

Firstly, animal welfare forms part of the nine specific objectives of the new CAP; namely Specific Objective 9, on improving the response to societal demands on food and health.

In their CAP Strategic Plans, Member States must develop a strategy to meet this objective and to demonstrate more ambition for  animal welfare.

They must analyse the weaknesses and threats they face, define their needs, and finally propose a consistent strategy to improve their situation.

Targets and indicators will help the Commission and Member States to fully measure progress.

As a base for their strategies, Member States will continue to apply strong rules and standards under

This includes animal welfare rules, which link CAP payments to the protection of calves, pigs, and other farm animals.

If farmers fail to meet these rules, payments may be reduced or withdrawn.

But animal welfare should not only be enforced with rules; it must also be encouraged with incentives.

Improvements in the welfare of animals can come at a cost for farmers, and switching to new practices implies investments and new competences.

This should not turn into a disadvantage for farmers.

In the new CAP, Member States can use eco-schemes, which represent at least 25% of the direct payments budget, to support animal welfare actions.

This will be on top of measures supported under the rural development

This budget supports animal welfare payments for farmers who go beyond legally-prescribed standards.

For instance, payments can support farmers who provide:

    • open-air access,
    • better keeping conditions,
    • nutrition,
    • and improved care for their animals

In the current CAP, Animal welfare payments are included in the Rural Development Plans of 18 Member States.

The total public expenditure planned for these payments in the 2014-2020 period is €2.8 billion, representing 1.8% of total rural development public expenditure.

However, some of the current commitments have been rather modest, and the direct effect on animal welfare has been uncertain, for example, by merely providing 10% additional space.

I believe that more can be done. The recent special report of the European Court of Auditors points in the same direction.

In the future, we need to ensure better uptake, and make sure that support delivers real added value for animal welfare.

For instance, ‘Package approaches’ should be promoted.

By this, I mean that animal welfare payments should be packaged together with other rural development interventions, such as:

    • investment measures, through which farmers can receive support for investing in newly built or renovated housing systems;
    • also measures to support knowledge transfer, training, and farm advisory services, to educate farmers on the best practices for the wellbeing of their animals;
    • measures to support organic farming can also benefit animal welfare. In the Organic Action Plan, the Commission is encouraging Member States to set ambitious targets for increasing the area under organic farming, while stimulating consumer demand to support growth in the sector.
Marketing, trade, research & innovation

Before I conclude, I would like to briefly highlight some other areas of policy where we can make a positive contribution to animal welfare.

You have already discussed today the topic of animal welfare labelling.

In addition to labelling options, the Commission will also:

    • develop the existing marketing standards for animal sectors (such as eggs), to generate greater added value for animal-friendly farming methods;
    • and we will continue to use the EU’s promotion policy to focus on the European model of food production, including its high animal welfare standards.

The issue of animal welfare should also be considered under international trade policy.

We must carefully consider in which circumstances we can require imported animal products to be produced according to the same standards applied by our farmers.

In fact, in the recently adopted Trade Policy Review, this is precisely what the Commission has said.

The review states that, “under certain circumstances, as defined by WTO rules, it is appropriate for the EU to require that imported products comply with certain production requirements”.

And over the years, we have progressively raised awareness and promoted a common understanding on animal welfare with our trade partners.

In 2002, animal welfare was included for the first time ever in a bilateral agreement with Chile. Since then, the Commission has made efforts to include such requirements in most international trade agreements.

Finally, I should note that the development of better animal welfare standards will also depend on research and innovation.

The European research programme Horizon Europe will therefore contribute to our objective.

Concluding remarks

To conclude,

I know that improving the welfare of farm animals brings many challenges; but if we overcome these challenges, we can achieve a “win-win” situation, for all concerned.

It can be a “win” for citizens, who are more aware of farm animals’ living conditions and are demanding positive change.

The European Citizens Initiative to “End the Cage Age” demonstrates this. Nearly 1.4 million EU citizens signed the initiative to ban cages for a number of animal species. This sends a very clear message.

Responding to this message can also represent a “win” for our farmers:

As animal welfare becomes a higher priority for citizens, it will bring higher consumer demand, which will in turn bring higher financial rewards for farmers.

And as I have demonstrated, the costs of meeting this consumer demand can be strongly supported in the CAP.

Finally, we can achieve a real “win” for our animals.

A body of scientific evidence shows that farm animals are sentient, intelligent, and able to feel emotions very close to our own.

They support us, so we must support them.

I believe that, together with revised legislation and a renewed CAP, the Commission can lead the food supply chain on a more sustainable path, with an increased focus on animal welfare and sustainable animal production models.

And I believe that, by working together on the actions I have outlined, we can meet the concerns of our citizens, support the livelihoods of our farmers, and protect the welfare of our animals.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Source – EU Commission


Forward to your friends