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Last modified: December 13, 2021

Animal Welfare

In May 2020, the new European Commission, led by Ursula Von der  Leyen, announced a fitness check of the European animal welfare legislation as part of its Farm To Fork Strategy for a more sustainable EU agriculture.  In addition to this review, the Commission intends to consider an animal welfare labeling initiative in 2021.


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, following a Commission evaluation.  This strategy succeeded 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 members consist of representatives of public entities and civil society, including experts from academic and research institutes with expertise in animal welfare, animal welfare groups, as well as business and professional organizations.  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 valorize the market value of the Union’s products at the global level.

EU Reference Center 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 Center for Animal Welfare (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2018/329). This first Center 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 Center will be up for review every five years.