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Animal welfare

The European Union (EU) has one of the most comprehensive set of rules in the world on animal welfare, covering farm animals at the farm, during transport and at when slaughtered.

These rules reflect the five freedoms contained in the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes:

  • freedom from hunger and thirst;
  • freedom from discomfort;
  • freedom from pain, injury and disease;
  • freedom to express normal behaviour;
  • freedom from fear and distress.

Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU stipulates that, as sentient beings, full regard should be paid to animals’ welfare requirements.

Since 1974, when the first EU legislation on animal welfare was adopted, animal welfare requirements have evolved based on sound scientific knowledge, improving the quality of animals’ lives in accordance with citizens’ expectations and market demands.

Today, animal welfare is at the heart of sustainability, as a good level of animal welfare is linked to less antibiotic use, healthier animals entering the food chain and reduced transmission of diseases from animals to people.

Animal welfare, as a key contribution to a sustainable livestock production, is an essential element of the ‘Farm to fork’ strategy, adopted by the European Commission in May 2020 in the context of the European Green Deal. Within its framework, the Commission will revise the animal welfare legislation to align it with the latest scientific evidence, broaden its scope, make it easier to enforce and ultimately ensure a higher level of animal welfare. The conclusions from the evaluation of the EU strategy for the protection and welfare of animals 2012–2015 will be used in this context. The Commission will also consider options for animal welfare labelling to better transmit value through the food chain.

While animal welfare is mainly dealt with at EU level, it does not fall within its exclusive competence. Topics such as the use of animals in shows, cultural or sporting events are the responsibility of EU countries at national level.