United States Mission to the European Union
Foreign Agricultural Service
United States Department Of Agriculture
Last modified: February 1, 2019

Animal Welfare

European Community legislation on farm animal welfare dates back to 1974. Animal welfare principles were set out by the Protocol on the Protection and Welfare of Animals annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999) and were restated in Art 13 of The Treaty of Lisbon (2009).   The Protocol recognizes that animals are sentient beings and stipulates that: “In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”  When Member States fail to apply Community rules, the Commission may consider opening an infringement procedure under Article 226 of the Treaty. 

EU Animal Welfare Strategy for 2012 – 2015

This new platform is meant to be the successor of the EU Animal Welfare Strategy for 2012 – 2015, which was based on a consultancy report Evaluation of the EU policy on Animal Welfare from December 2010.  This strategy was in response to a European Parliament Evaluation Report of the EU Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2006-2010. The focus of 2012-2015 strategy focused on:

  • Animal welfare for pets, especially cats and dogs;
  • Animal welfare for farmed species for which no legislation exists like dairy cows, fish, rabbits, turkeys, other;
  • Better implementation of existing legislation through enhanced monitoring and enforcement at member state level; and,
  • Further development of a common understanding of animal welfare issues at the international level.

The first EU Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2006-2010 included initiatives in 5 broad areas of animal welfare:

  • Upgrading minimum standards for animal protection and welfare;
  • Giving high priority to promoting policy-oriented research and the application of the “3Rs” principle (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of the use of animals in experiments) to animal testing;
  • Introducing standardized animal welfare indicators;
  • Ensuring that animal handlers and the general public are more involved and informed on animal welfare issues; and,
  • Supporting and initiating further international initiatives to raise awareness of, and create greater consensus on, animal welfare.

Animal Welfare Labeling

On October 28, 2009, the European Commission published a report outlining a series of policy options for animal welfare labeling.  The report also considers the possible establishment of a “European Network of Reference Centers for the Protection and Welfare of Animals” (ENRC).  The ENRC would provide technical support for the development and implementation of a variety of animal welfare policies including labeling and certification.  The stated objective of both initiatives is not to raise animal welfare standards as such but to increase consumer understanding of animal welfare and provide an incentive to producers to increase the welfare of animals.  The Commission report does not endorse any of the animal welfare labeling options but identifies legislative and non-legislative options which are considered to be the most feasible at this stage.  The finding presented in the report will now form the basis for an in-depth debate between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament.  For detailed information on the Commission report see: Animal Welfare Labeling -European Commission Report (GAIN report E49084 – November 19, 2009

EU Platform on Animal Welfare

In January 2017, the EU agreed on installing a Platform on Animal Welfare.  The platform will consist of representatives of business and professional organisations, organisations from civil society and independent experts from academic and research institutes with expertise in animal welfare.  Its goal is to enhance better application of EU rules on animal welfare, to stimulate voluntary commitments by businesses to further improve animal welfare and to promote EU animal welfare standards to valorise the market value of the Union’s products at the global level.

EU Reference Centre for Animal Welfare

On 5th March 2018 the Commission designated a consortium formed by the Wageningen Livestock Research (the Netherlands), the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (Germany) and the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University (Denmark) to serve as the first European Union Reference Centre for Animal Welfare (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2018/329). This first Centre will focus on pig welfare since improving the enforcement of the legislation of pigs is one of the Commission’s priorities in the area of animal welfare. This Reference Centre will be up for review every five years.