Commission Press Release (IP/06/64), 23 January 2006
Concrete measures to improve the protection and welfare of animals over the next five years are outlined in a new Action Plan on the protection and welfare of animals, adopted by the Commission today. The Action Plan aims to ensure that animal welfare is addressed in the most effective manner possible over the coming years, in all EU sectors and through EU relations with Third countries. For the period 2006-2010, five main areas of action are set out to meet this objective: upgrading minimum standards for animal welfare; promoting research and alternative approaches to animal testing; introducing standardised animal welfare indicators; better informing animal handlers and the general public on animal welfare issues; and supporting international initiatives for the protection of animals. Detailed background on each area of action is outlined in the Action Plan, in the accompanying impact assessment and Commission working document, along with an indicative timetable for the planned initiatives.
The following is an extract from the Commission Working Document. For the full document, (pdf format) go to: COM(2006) 14 See also the Communication from the Commission: COM(2006) 13.
3. ACTION 3 – INTRODUCING STANDARDISED ANIMAL WELFARE INDICATORS
3.1. Background – the integrated approach
Today the farming of animals is no longer viewed by European consumers simply as a means of food production. Instead it is seen as relevant to other key social goals such as food safety and quality, environmental protection, sustainability and ensuring that animals are properly treated. The link between animal welfare, animal health and food safety has also been recognised internationally15. The proper and uniform enforcement of animal welfare legislation is essential and the development of precise and measurable animal welfare indicators will facilitate this and increase the efficiency of the controls and standards applied. At present two particular trends are noticeable: the coexistence of mandatory or voluntary schemes that are going beyond the minimum standards established in EU legislation, as well as confirmation from market trends that an increase of sales in sustainably derived products is achievable in many countries worldwide. Both of these trends are clearly facilitating a continued improvement of the animals' welfare conditions although the provision of additional information to consumers is required in order to better understand the added value of the welfare standards applied to each product and to facilitate their purchasing choices.
3.2. An EU label for animal welfare – classifying production systems in relation to the welfare requirements applied
Retailers and producers are increasingly recognising animal welfare as a fundamental aspect of product image and quality which creates a need for reliable systems for on farm monitoring of animal welfare status and providing guarantees on appropriate production conditions. Independent animal welfare audit programmes promoted by processors, retailers and multi-national corporations are becoming increasingly commonplace both in the EU and beyond. Various voluntary schemes already exist in different Member States for the labelling of products based on compliance with various parameters including animal welfare standards. EU marketing standards for both eggs and poultry meat already contain various rules relating to animal welfare labelling.
In relation to eggs for example, since 1 January 2004 table eggs shall be marked with a distinguishing code that includes inter alia a code indicating the poultry-farming method used to produce the egg. In order to inform the consumer, an explanation of this code is obligatory on the packs in the case of packed eggs and is explained on a separate notice in the case of eggs sold loose. Member States have launched information campaigns, co-financed by the European Commission, to promote consumers' awareness on the meaning of the code. Moreover, Commission Regulation (EC) No 2295/2003 provides that “the marks stamped on eggs and applied to packaging shall be clearly visible and legible, in accordance with Articles 7 to 10 of Regulation (EEC) No 1907/90”. In the case of table eggs imported from Third Countries other than those that have an agreement of equivalence with the EC, eggs shall be clearly and legibly stamped in the country of origin with the ISO code of the country of origin preceded by: “non-EC standards”.
The establishment of an EU label for animal welfare is an option to be explored in the near future which could promote products elaborated under high welfare standards thus facilitating the choice of the consumers between products obtained with basic welfare standards (the minimum standards laid down in EU legislation) or with higher standards (contained in voluntary codes of practice or Member States' legislation going beyond EU minimum rules).
A clear label identifying the level of welfare applied could represent an effective marketing tool as currently used for the identification of certain agricultural products with particular regional attributes. Such a system of classification will need to be based on standardised scientific indicators well recognised both in the EU and internationally, and underpinned by research, in order to facilitate the marketing of these products. In order to support the consumers' desire for choice with objective and scientifically based information, and in the light of numerous sometimes competing or even confusing labels and standards, a specific European quality standard should be developed based on ongoing research work.