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Animal welfare – evaluation of EU rules (fitness check)

Below you'll find the participation of the association  Forests From Farms

The "Context" of the Fitness Check document that accompanies this public consultation states "The EU has one of the world’s highest standards of animal welfare." That is like claiming that you have the highest welfare standards for slaves. It sounds good to you but the slaves are not so appreciative. 

The EU acknowledges that animals are sentient beings: it is therefore incoherent and hypocritical to pretend that welfare standards are something to be proud of. They hide the reality that their commercial exploitation treats these sentient creatures worse than slaves. Practically every facet of their life is or can be precisely controlled: where they live, what they eat, how they reproduce, how many hours of light they get per day, how much they can move, what relationships they can have with others... and finally how they die. 

It is clear that the major shortcoming of the EU's legislation for the welfare of animals is that it doesn't address the fundamental issue, which is that no system of exploitation can ever have the real welfare of those exploited as a goal. From the animals' perspective it is a failure and may even be harmful: it doesn't protect them from death and provides a salve for those with guilty consciences, allowing them to continue with the exploitation. 

So the EU has to turn away from the exploitation of animals and develop alternatives such as laboratory grown "meat" and vegetable based proteins. This is not just a moral imperative but also good financial practice and necessary for the environment and public health. The EU has shown that it can embrace change and reap the rewards. Just look at the results of encouraging renewables: some of the biggest companies in the world in the field of renewable energy are European. Thanks to the foresight of those EU actors decades ago, the EU has avoided sinking too much money in dead end industries and created new industries with long term positive prospectives. It can be the same with the exploitation of animals. 

It doesn't make sense for the EU to support investment in the rearing of animals. The results over the last few decades have been disastrous as raising livestock has become more and more intensive: pollution from the industry has become a major problem, biodiversity has decreased and jobs have been lost. In 1991 almost 11% of the workforce were employed in agriculture, in 2019 it was about 4.3%. Although this figure is all jobs in agriculture, not specifically livestock, the trend is there: intensive farms increase the number of animals being raised but not the number of staff employed. This creates a vicious circle of escalation: each time a bigger farm is created with more animals but no increase in staff it puts pressure on the smaller farms which have relatively higher staff costs. The bigger farms have greater challenges at maintaining high standards of welfare because the staff have relatively less time per animal for taking care of them. They also respond less rapidly to market signals which can lead to excess production causing a glut on the market and depressing prices. 

This vicious circle affects the profitability of raising livestock. New projects generally assume a economically viable lifetime of 30 or more years. In practice this is no longer possible, farms are continually increasing in size, so that today's leading edge "Megafarm" is soon an unprofitable stranded asset. It would be more efficient and a better use of resources to encourage investment in alternatives. 

Agriculture (farming, fisheries and forestry) only represents about 2% of the EU's GDP yet attracts a disproportionate amount of the EU's expenditure. For that special treatment we should expect more from it. We should expect it to have high ethical and moral standards and high environmental and public health standards. But it doesn't. 

The problems of reduced biodiversity, pollution from animal waste, extensive use of land for fodder crops, extensive use of water for irrigation of those crops, antibiotic resistance etc. are all well known and are addressed by a number of EU initiatives. However one facet that is currently in the news that needs to be addressed is the role of the exploitation of animals in the creation of a pandemic. 

The current Covid 19 pandemic is linked to the trade in animals. According to the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program) and ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) "About 60 per cent of human infections are estimated to have an animal origin, and of all new and emerging human infectious diseases, some 75 per cent “jump species” from (non-human) animals to people. In high income countries, direct infection with a zoonosis is probably a rare event, with most described zoonoses happening indirectly, e.g. through insect vectors or, more frequently, via the food system. Domesticated animal species share an average of 19 (range of 5–31) zoonotic viruses with people, and wild animal species share an average of 0.23 (range of 0–16) viruses with people. So, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of animals involved in historic zoonotic events or current zoonosis are domestic (livestock, domesticated wildlife and pets), which is logical as the contact rates are high" %20next%20pandemic.pdf?sequence=9&isAllowed=y 

As mentioned above, agriculture in total represents about 2% of the EU's GDP: the contribution of livestock is obviously only a part of that. The current pandemic has killed over 650,000 people and is estimated to have resulted in a contraction of the EU's economy of over 7%. Another pandemic is waiting in the wings. It is neither rational nor efficient to continue to improve an industry that should disappear. Today we would be shocked at any proposals to expand the fossil fuel industries at the expense of renewables. In the near future we will look back and ask ourselves how it was possible that investments were made in an industry that produced so few benefits but inflicted such high costs and created such high risks.

In conclusion: the EU welfare standards are not successful in meeting the aims of the EU. They create an inconsistency between the declaration that animals are sentient and the way that they are treated, they encourage inefficient investment in a dead end industry, they risk the economic well being and health of the EU (and global) citizens. The EU should seek to reduce raising livestock as quickly as possible. It should encourage farmers to retrain and/or retire early (see the Netherlands attempts to reduce the dairy and pig farming sectors) and refuse any investment in new facilities. It should not contribute to campaigns that encourage people to eat animal products. It should invest in the future by promoting alternatives to animals as a source of food.

Bournezeau, 29 July 2020