Why people who care for animals should vote for the European Parliament
Posted on 14/05/2014
Eurogroup for Animals, the federation of European animal welfare organisations, urgently calls on citizens to vote in next week’s European Elections. Each vote by Europe’s citizens will determine the future lives and wellbeing of billions of animals and every vote counts. Despite the recognition of the sentience of animals in the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has only attempted to govern the welfare of animals for economic purposes. International free trade agreements like the one currently being negotiated with the USA also further water down the rather limited legal protection of animals in Europe. Luckily, over the last months more than 200 election candidates from all 28 European member states have signed a pledge stating that they will work on substantial improvements for animal welfare in the coming five year Parliamentary term.
At stake: the welfare of billions of animals
Every year across the EU two billion poultry and 300 million livestock are used for farming purposes, approximately 12 million animals are used for scientific procedures and about 60 million dogs and 64 million cats are owned by European citizens. In addition the trade in live reptiles into the EU accounts for € 6.4 million and this does not include exotic and wild animals kept in zoos and aquaria.
Every day 11 million chickens, sheep, horses, cows and pigs are slaughtered and 280 million live animals are transported per year.
Each and every citizen is directly and indirectly impacted by the way in which animals are treated whether it be maintaining a safe and secure food chain that protects consumer health, preventing the deterioration of our local environments through decreasing biodiversity as a result of invasive non-native animal populations or the unlawful trafficking of wild animals and the illegal trade in their products such as ivory.
The role of the EU regarding animal welfare
Eurogroup for Animals noted that many European citizens do not know what role the EU plays in animal welfare issues. In view of the single market and growing trade with third countries, the future lives of many animals are shaped by today’s European decision makers, including Members of the European Parliament. Because most animals are held for economic purposes, their welfare is largely affected by European legislation and policies.
Over the last three decades the EU has adopted some crucial legislation to better protect the welfare for animals including the ban on barren battery cages for laying hens (2012), calf crates (1986), individual sow stalls (2013) and the ban on animal testing for cosmetics (2013).
Moreover, the sentience of animals has been enshrined in Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty (2009) which states that “full regard should be given to the welfare requirements of animals while formulating and enforcing EU polices”.
Main issues: lack of sound legislation and enforcement
Still today however, a large number of animal species have been overlooked and are not covered by existing legislation. In addition enacted legislation is being flouted at this very moment and Member States are failing to enforce legislation effectively. For example, 80% of Member States are still not compliant with the Pigs Directive which means that enrichment of pig pens is still not taking place and pig tails are still being docked unnecessarily and illegally.
The Common Agricultural Policy which funds animal welfare initiatives also promotes unsustainable factory farming in which billions of animals suffer alive. Moreover, the welfare of cats and dogs as well as wildlife is barely protected and the development of a long expected animal welfare framework has been stalled. In addition to this the Food and Veterinary Office which is in charge of ensuring animal welfare laws are enforced only conducts 15 inspections per year which can only touch the surface of the huge scale trade in animals across the EU.
Eurogroup and its member societies have come to the conclusion that protecting animal welfare has been assigned a low priority due to the economic crisis. The EU also seems hesitant to introduce new legislation as a reaction to growing euro-scepticism. We fear that the situation may even get worse with the development of new free trade agreements. It will be difficult for example for European farmers to compete with their US counterparts, as European animal welfare standards although still very modest, are significantly higher than in the US. Trade negotiations put pressure on these standards as a result and we fear the EU may give in and lower its standards.
What can voters do to improve animal welfare
Traditionally, the European Parliament has been supportive of animal welfare policies and has frequently pushed the European Commission and Members States to go further in their ambitions. A recent example was the adoption of Marit Paulsen MEP’s Report on the Animal Health Law which introduced clear language on animal welfare provisions. So it is vital that Europe’s citizens choose MEPs that will continue this work and fight to improve animal welfare.
“We must be in no doubt that the huge vested economic interests which perpetuate cruel and unsustainable practices that impact animals directly every day will continue and we can only counter this is if a strong and united group of animal welfare minded MEPs are elected. It is vital therefore that every European citizen uses his or her vote to make a difference,” concluded Reineke Hameleers, Director at Eurogroup for Animals.