Exchange of views with Commissioner Kyriakides on the revision of the EU animal welfare legislation

23 Nov 2023
This morning, the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, chaired by MEP Tilly Metz (the Greens/EFA, LU), gathered in Strasbourg for an exchange of views with Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, on the revision of the EU animal welfare legislation.

Today’s session offered MEPs the opportunity to discuss the revision process of the EU animal welfare legislation and the Commission’s follow-up actions to the animal welfare related European Citizens’ initiatives of this term.

Commissioner Kyriakides started her intervention by acknowledging the importance of the findings of the latest Eurobarometer on animal welfare, which have sent a strong signal to policymakers on the value EU citizens place on animal welfare. The Commissioner noted that animal welfare remains the highest priority for the European Commission and stressed on the fact that the proposals on animal welfare at farm level; animal welfare at the time of killing; and the voluntary European label for animal welfare, were not proceeding at this time, should not be interpreted as a downgrading of ambitions on animal welfare.

 In January 2023 the Commission adopted new rules on the transport of animals by sea following the unfortunate number of sea tragedies that happened in the past three years. The Commission is still considering options to phase-out and finally prohibit the use of cages. The reason for the delay in the adoption of the expected proposals is due to issues related to costs, transition periods and the predictability of investments. The Commission will come forward with a proposal on the protection of animals during transport. and the tentative adoption date is 6 December 2023.

As for the European Citizens’ initiative “End the Cage Age”, the Commission’s Communication of 2021 explained that the conditions for phasing out cages must be based on scientific advice, a public consultation and a thorough impact assessment, along with a consideration of the appropriate length of the transition period. The Commission is working to finalise these issues to move forward with this initiative. On the future of fur farming in Europe and as a response to the European citizens’ initiative “Fur Free Europe”, the Commission will provide a response in December 2023.  Both successful ECIs have sent a clear message to policymakers that the EU should improve animal welfare and protection standards and the Commission will remain determined to do so.

The Commission is moving to improve animal welfare also through other means through better enforcement of the legislation in several areas, from farming to transport, notably via audits and checks in the Member States. In addition, the Commission is working via the tertiary legislation on transporting animals using livestock vessels, or via the EU Platform for Animal Welfare and the EU reference centres for animal welfare.  New mandates were given to the European Food Safety Authority – most recently on the welfare of beef cattle and the welfare of turkeys. They will provide a better scientific foundation on which to draw up the revised legislation. A new EU reference centre for the welfare of farmed aquatic animals is in the final stages of appointing.

Ending her speech, the Commissioner ensured that the work to improve animal welfare across the EU continues. She thanked the Intergroup members for the ongoing support in many of the areas and stressed that the Commission will not lower the bar of ambition.

During the exchange of views, MEPs took the floor and participated in the discussion. Caroline Roose (Greens/EFA, FR) raised the question on the likelihood of a ban on the transport of calves before a certain age and expressed disappointment about the fact that the proposals on kept animals, slaughter and labelling had been delayed. Francisco Guerreiro (Greens/EFA, PT) underlined the need for a swift adoption of the full package of proposals and asked whether the upcoming reference centre for the welfare of farmed aquatic animals will also address concerns regarding octopus farming. He inquired also about the Commission’s efforts for the promotion of a plant-based diet.  Aurelia Beigneux (ID, FR) called on the Commission to adopt a ban on cages referring also to the results of the recent Special Eurobarometer on animal welfare and the citizens’ commitment to animal welfare. The first round of interventions ended with Thomas Waitz (Greens/EFA, AT), who asked for the reason for the delay in the adoption of the transport regulation. He also noted that a proposal on slaughter and a proposal on labelling would certainly benefit small-scale and family-owned farms.

Commissioner Kyriakides reiterated the European Commission’s commitment to animal welfare and noted that it had not been possible to come forward with the transport legislation before December. Regarding the content of the animal transport proposal, it would aim to limit maximum journey times including those for exports, to increase space allowances, to introduce surveillance techniques, stricter  rules for the transport of vulnerable animals and also  stricter rules for the transport under high temperatures. Regarding the welfare of aquatic animals, the Commissioner noted that a specific mandate on fish welfare would be sent to EFSA in the next future.

 During the second round of interventions Tilly Metz (Greens/EFA, LU) asked about the timelines of the still outstanding three Commission proposals on kept animals, slaughter, and labelling. Marie Toussaint (Greens/EFA, FR inquired whether the next CAP would include animal welfare standards and pointed at the pressing issue of aquaculture and the threat of genetically modified fish for the environment. Michal Wiezik (RE, SK) asked who would be benefiting the most from a delay in the adoption of the proposals and asked the Commissioner to clarify her position regarding the potential inclusion of animal welfare in the title of the next Commissioner in DG SANTE. This question was repeated by Niels Fuglsang (S&D, DK), who referred to the successful campaign #EUforAnimals. Anna Bonfrisco (ID, IT) raised the issue of force-feeding and the online traffic of animals in the European market. An intervention followed by Anja Hazekamp (The Left, NL), who asked about the two successful ECIs and how the European Commission could ensure that European citizens’ initiatives would not become an obsolete instrument, considering the disappointing follow-up on most animal welfare related ECIs. Michaela Šojdrová, (EPP, CZ), asked whether issues had to be dealt with in the form of a legislative package, and urged MEPs to contact Member States to ask them to improve the life of animals at the national level. Finally, Petras Auštrevičius (Renew, LT) asked about the state of the work for much needed EU rules on pet welfare and whether the European Commission intended to address them in the upcoming proposals.

Commissioner Kyriakides thanked MEPs for their interventions and replied to Tilly Metz that it would not be possible to adopt the three outstanding proposals still during this term.  Stressing that “she” was the Commissioner for Animal Welfare she responded to Michal Wiezik and Niels Fuglsang’s questions. She thanked Petras Auštrevičius for his question on companion animals and replied that a decision on the matter could possibly be taken in the upcoming month. Finally, she reiterated that a package on animal transport would be adopted in December, together with a response on the issue of fur farming and potentially on companion animals.

She concluded by saying that MEPs could ask for a meeting with her should they need further clarifications.