Selective Breeding Issues in Livestock Farming

27 Jan 2022
Today the Intergroup had a very lively session on the issue of selective breeding in livestock farming. This session was inspired by the Danish ministry’s call to the Commission to include sufficient protection, in relation to selective breeding, in its revision of the EU Animal Welfare legislation.

Tilly Metz MEP (Greens/EFA, LU) opened the webinar - her first session as President of the Animal Welfare Intergroup - and welcomed the speakers; Kirsten Vornhagen, DG SANTE, European Commission, and Mia Bonnichsen, Animal Protection Denmark. Ms Vornahagen gave an overview of the progress the Commission has made so far in relation to the revision of EU Animal Welfare legislation and Ms Bonnichsen highlighted the issue of selective breeding, focusing on keel bone fractures in laying hens. 

The Commission received a record 59,281 responses to its public consultation on animal welfare legislation. Breeding requirements are currently covered in the General Farming Directive and based on the feedback from the Commission’s inception impact assessment and the public consultation, the Commission will be extending the welfare requirements to breeding stock. The Commission is currently in contact with the breeding sector on this issue. 

Ms Bonnichsen gave a very comprehensive overview of the issue selective breeding is causing in laying hens. A study conducted by the University of Copenhagen, revealed that 85% of hens in Denmark suffer from fractures of the keel bone. This is a result of disproportionately large eggs pushing a hens body to breaking point. Many hens in the study had four fractures or more. These fractures contradict Annex 2.1 of the General Farming Directive, which states that “No animal shall be kept for farming purposes unless it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype or phenotype, that it can be kept without detrimental effect on its health or welfare.”

Concerning the timeline of the revision, the Commission intends to have the fitness check concluded by July 2022, with the proposal being published by the end of 2023. MEPs expressed their dismay at the length at which it will take, not only for the legislation to change, but also for a change to occur to the practice itself. MEP Anja Hazekamp (The Left, NL) was keen to know more about what the European Parliament could do to help the Commission speed up the process, pointing out that we need to lower production and change housing systems. Ms Vornhagen stressed that the Commission intends for a “full package” revision to the legislation, however the process simply cannot be sped up, as it relies on collating data and conducting scientific research. 

MEP Manuela Ripa (Greens/EFA, DE)  posed a relevant question concerning mirror measures, which involves non-EU countries matching the same standards required in the EU on imported products. Ms Vornhagen commented that the Commission is discussing and suggesting different possibilities, noting that international trade is very important for the EU and imports are important for our market. On the topic of hormones from female horses (which are extracted from their blood in a brutal manner) for the production of pork, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are conducting a study and developing a roadmap, in which equines are included. 

The discussion ultimately came down to the necessity for speed in treating the problems caused  by various breeding methods. As the Commission does not have a legal basis for an emergency action, Ms Vornhagen urged MEPs to inform farmers and citizens of the extent of the problem and to reach out to their Member States to begin tackling the issue at a national level in the meantime. 

The next Intergroup session will take place on the 17th of February and will focus on the protection of wolves in the EU.