The European Union has been at the forefront of animal protection for more than four decades, continually trying to influence other countries on other continents to adopt the same behaviour.

The European Union’s leading position in animal rights and welfare is widely recognized. In the 13th article of Title II of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, it can be read that “[…] the Union and the Member States will take full account of animal welfare requirements as sensitive beings […] ”. In fact, this institution has been taking measures and legislating in order to defend animals for more than 40 years, but it has been recently that more progress has been made in this area at European level.

According to Vytenis Andriukaitis, current European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, being an advocate for animal welfare means ensuring that animals “live their entire lives and die without any unnecessary suffering”. Oriented in this sense, European standards on animal welfare and protection have focused mainly on 4 distinct groups: farm animals, wild animals, laboratory animals and domestic animals.

Welfare of farm animals:

EU rules on the welfare of farm animals reflect the “five freedoms”: animals must be free from hunger and thirst; free from discomfort; pain, injury or illness; fear and anguish and, finally, they must be free to have their normal behavior. The European Union has also taken important steps regarding the transport of animals (animals must have sufficient space and ventilation, the journey should be as short as possible and the use of GPS devices in transport trucks has been implemented to ensure that these rules are being complied with). On the other hand, other EU rules establish welfare standards for farm animals during stunning and slaughter, as well as for breeding conditions for specific animal categories, such as calves, pigs and laying chickens. Finally, a new regulation was also approved in 2018 in order to reduce the use of medicines in order to make animals grow faster.

Wildlife protection

There are also several European Union measures aimed at protecting wild animals. For example, whales and dolphins are protected from being caught and killed in EU waters and the sale of any seal product is prohibited. Likewise, bees also deserve the attention of the European Union, which in 2018 launched the Pollinator Initiative to combat the decline of wild pollinating insects, as well as wild birds that live naturally in the EU, protected by the Birds Directive.

Animal testing for scientific purposes

Currently, four out of five countries in the world test cosmetic products on animals; however, this is a practice prohibited by the European Union, which since 2018 has called for a worldwide boycott of cosmetic tests on animals and the respective commercialization of these products. In addition, the EU has created a legal framework that regulates animal studies for the development of new drugs, for physiological studies and for testing food additives or chemicals, based on three basic principles, the “Three Rs”: Replacement (use of alternative methods), Reduction (minimizing the number of animals for the same purpose) and Refinement (minimizing pain and suffering).

Protection of pets

In general, Europeans increasingly consider their pets as part of their families. As such, the European Union has also taken several measures to protect this category of animals. To begin with, since 2008 it has prohibited the sale of cat and dog fur; In order to protect these same animals, Parliament also called for the implementation of mandatory animal registration and for sanctions to be increased to halt the illegal trade of dogs and cats, which is more and more frequent with the widespread dissemination of digital media. Finally, thanks to harmonized EU rules on travel with pets, people are free to move with their fury friends within the European Union. The European pet passport or animal health certificate are the only requirements for dogs, cats and ferrets to cross EU borders.

The latest data from the “Eurobarometers” revealed that European citizens are progressively concerned about animal welfare and are more aware of the importance of protecting them. In order to meet the wishes of its citizens, Europe is committed to continuously improve its legislation in this area and is having significant victories: for example, road transport of live animals in the summer months in Europe has decreased 72% in just two years, with more and more countries adhering to this measure. Likewise, the European Union is also trying to put pressure on third countries by positively influencing them to adopt more respectful measures towards animals, giving clear signs that, although there is still a long way to go in the fight for welfare animal, this topic has never been more on the political agenda than it is now, and all thanks to the European will.

Written by Carolina Ramon de Fonseca

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