We emphasize the need for strong, scientifically substantiated, and precise rules that will be applicable, overcome the shortcomings of existing legislation, close its gaps, and change the long-standing violent treatment of animals in farming. To ensure fair competition, all EU animal welfare standards must apply to imported products as well.

Animal Welfare in Farming

Despite having the most advanced system of laws for the welfare of animals on agricultural holdings in the world, billions of animals in the EU continue to suffer due to unclear and weak provisions of the laws and their non-enforcement, with widespread use of painful practices persisting.

• Specific standards for all farmed animals, including fish: Current legislation provides standards for specific species: for egg-laying hens, chickens raised for meat, calves, and pigs. However, other species lack tangible protection due to the very vague and weak wording of the General Directive on Production Animals (98/58/EC). Therefore, it is crucial to establish standards that reflect the needs of individual species based on the latest available scientific knowledge and to limit practices of selective breeding resulting in poor animal welfare. Species to be covered include dairy cows, rabbits, most commonly farmed fish species (salmon, trout, seabass, seabream, tilapia, carp), turkeys, geese, ducks, quails, and parent stock of egg-laying birds and broiler chickens.

• Prohibition of systematic mutilations: Animals are systematically subjected to painful mutilations without anesthesia or pain relief to prevent tail docking, teeth clipping, and castration in pigs, beak trimming in egg-laying hens, or ear notching in cattle. These procedures are used to mitigate unwanted behaviors resulting from lack of environmental enrichment, improper grouping, or mismanagement by farmers. However, instead of quick fixes like mutilations, farmers should focus on addressing the root cause and provide animals with an environment that reduces the frequency of attacks among them. Therefore, routine mutilations of animals should be prohibited, and such procedures should be allowed only exceptionally on a case-by-case basis for health or welfare reasons, performed only by a specialized veterinarian, while using both analgesics and anesthesia to minimize suffering. Additionally, providing environmental enrichment to allow animals to exhibit their natural behavior should be mandatory.

• Ban on force-feeding: Force-feeding, although banned in many EU countries, remains a common practice used for foie gras production. This inhumane process involves severe suffering for ducks and geese due to their confinement in cages and violent force-feeding through a tube to artificially enlarge their liver. Force-feeding of any kind should be banned throughout the EU, as well as the import and sale of any products produced using this practice.

• Reduction of stocking densities in farming units: Most welfare problems of animals arise from the fact that animals are forced to live in overcrowded environments and in unnaturally large groups without stable hierarchy, resulting in stress, aggressive behavior, and injury to other animals or even cannibalism. Today's modern intensive farming systems do not recognize animals as complex beings with diverse needs but limit the care provided to them to the minimum required to reduce farming costs. Such intensive systems also promote the spread of zoonotic diseases, increase microbial resistance due to the use of antimicrobials as compensation for poor welfare, and pose a threat to our environment. Legislation should promote the reduction of stocking densities because good welfare cannot be ensured in intensive farming units. This aligns with providing all animals access to outdoor areas where they can explore and forage in fresh air and abandoning fully closed farming systems.

Treatment during transport

The European Union is the world's largest exporter of live animals. However, as numerous studies and reports show, legislation does not effectively protect animals during their transport, especially when they are outside the borders of the EU. As a result, animals are forced to suffer during long journeys and endure harsh transport conditions, often resulting in significant suffering, injuries, and even death during their transport.

• Reducing long-distance journeys by establishing absolute time limits of 8 and 4 hours for all animal transports. Animal transport inherently involves stress. However, the longer the journey, the less an animal's ability to cope with its environment decreases. Transport lasting for days or even weeks poses a significant threat to the welfare of animals and should be replaced by the transport of meat, slaughter, and genetic material. Animals destined for slaughter should be transported to the nearest appropriate abattoir instead of being subjected to long journeys, and on-farm slaughter (under strict and controlled conditions) should be further promoted in EU policy as an alternative to transport.  

The revised Regulation should set a maximum time limit of 8 hours for all animals transported for slaughter, fattening, and reproduction, both by road and by sea, except for poultry, rabbits, and animals at the end of their breeding, where the time limit should be reduced to 4 hours due to their vulnerability. At the same time, these time limits should be absolute, meaning that transport cannot continue indefinitely through transshipments, with short resting periods.

• Prohibition of the transport of unweaned and pregnant animals. Both unweaned and pregnant animals are particularly vulnerable, and their welfare is further compromised under harsh transport conditions. Unweaned animals are transported before their immune system has properly developed, often suffering from hunger for many hours due to complications with their feeding on trucks and are unable to cope with extreme weather conditions and similarly stressful environments. Pregnant animals give birth even during transport, as they are loaded even at advanced stages of pregnancy, resulting in many of them and their newborns dying. Therefore, unweaned animals under 8 weeks of age and pregnant animals for which 40% of the estimated gestation period has elapsed should be defined as unsuitable for transport and, therefore, their transport should be prohibited.

 • Prohibition of the export of live animals to third countries. In 2019, 4.5 million cattle, sheep, and pigs were exported to countries outside the EU. Among the most frequent export destinations are countries considered high risk for the welfare of animals, where horrendous animal cruelty has been reported. Even before reaching their destination, animals suffer on journeys lasting from days to weeks, in extreme heat or very low temperatures. Despite the Court's decision in the Zuchtvieh case, the EU cannot guarantee the protection of animals beyond its territory, and animals are left without real protection. The only solution to this issue is a complete ban on the export of live animals and their full replacement with the export of meat, slaughter, and genetic material.

• Rules for the transport of live animals, including fish transport, concerning specific species. Permissible space limits, internal heights, and temperature ranges should be based on the most recent available scientific data and the individual needs of each species, even within different categories of the same species (e.g., pregnant or lactating animals). Special specifications should be introduced for each species and for the transport of fish, at least for the species of fish that are most commonly farmed, such as salmon, trout, sea bream, sea bass, European eel, carp, which are often overlooked in EU legislation.
Handling during slaughter

In the EU, nearly 9 billion terrestrial animals and between 500 million and 1.3 billion farmed fish are slaughtered each year. Unfortunately, the EU continues to allow the use of painful and harsh methods of stunning and other practices that cause significant stress and pain to animals before their death.

• Phasing out the stunning of poultry through water immersion and the stunning of pigs with high-concentration carbon dioxide. Both of these stunning methods contribute to animals suffering to a great extent, as confirmed by the European Food Safety Authority in 2004, which called for the replacement of these methods. However, the Regulation did not include these recommendations for economic reasons, and little has been done in the last two decades to rectify the situation. As a result, water immersion stunning and the use of high-concentration carbon dioxide continue to be widely used in stunning poultry and pigs, respectively. 

Water immersion stunning involves painful and distressing shackling of poultry, and the method has been proven to be not as effective as needed and desired, with many birds not being stunned before slaughter. High concentrations of carbon dioxide are particularly aversive and lead to severe irritation of the eyes, nasal passages, and lungs in pigs, respiratory distress, and intense discomfort before the onset of unconsciousness. Revised legislation must expedite the reform process and the development of alternative solutions so that both methods are gradually phased out and fully replaced as soon as possible.

• Prohibition of the killing of day-old chicks. More than 300 million day-old chicks are killed each year in the EU as a byproduct of the egg industry, usually by crushing or gassing. This occurs despite the existence of technologies that can determine the gender of the embryo before it hatches. The killing of day-old chicks must be prohibited and replaced by the alternative solution of gender identification in the egg and cessation of incubation for unwanted eggs. Technologies used for this purpose should be required to determine gender before the 7th day of incubation, during which there is high certainty that the embryo is unable to feel pain. 

• Prohibition of the use of electric equipment for animal handling. Electric prods are commonly used to move pigs and cattle, although legislation considers them as a last resort. However, all they cause in animals is additional stress, making handling even more difficult and potentially dangerous for workers. Similarly, other tools that produce noise cause stress in animals and, therefore, hinder work. If animals are afraid to move, there is a problem on the slaughter line. There are many relatively simple solutions that can help alleviate the problem, such as adjusting the design of the slaughterhouse so that animals are not scared, for example, by sudden changes in colors or shadows. However, the top priority is to keep the animals as calm as possible, starting from unloading. Proper training and monitoring of workers are therefore key to mitigating the problem.

Harmonized and transparent use of derogation for religious slaughter. As reports show, the use of derogation allowing slaughter without prior stunning for religious purposes is not harmonized and transparent in the EU, with authorities at the member state level granting it under different conditions, a fact that also leads to abuse of derogation by operators who simply want to speed up slaughter lines in their facilities. This must be corrected in the revised Regulation by introducing a series of harmonized conditions that must be met for granting derogation, as well as by adopting a requirement for member states to submit reports so that the Commission has comparable data on the use of derogation.

 • Special rules for fish slaughter. The Slaughter Regulation exempts fish from its scope, except for one provision that requires avoiding unnecessary animal distress. However, throughout the EU, methods resulting in poor welfare of fish according to the World Organization for Animal Health for fish slaughter are used, such as chilling in ice slurry or saltwater and carbon dioxide in water. The revised regulation must contain rules for handling fish by species and prohibit such harsh slaughter methods.

Labeling for the Good Treatment of Animals
European citizens are interested in better animal protection, but it's often argued that their beliefs don't translate into their purchasing habits. However, research shows that citizens believe they lack sufficient information about the conditions under which animals are raised on farms, as well as during transportation and slaughter, and that there is no opportunity to choose products produced from animals in better conditions, even though more than half of consumers are willing to pay more for such products.

 • Mandatory labeling "Method of Production Plus (MOP+)" on all products containing animal ingredients: The information gap caused by the lack of transparency regarding breeding conditions and information on the welfare of animals in modern farming systems needs to be addressed. One tool that could help is the introduction of a "Method of Production Plus (MOP+)" label, which provides a complete picture, but in an understandable way, by combining the labeling of production method with simple information about animal welfare (such as a grade from A to E), so that consumers can be informed about the level of animal welfare, even without deeper knowledge of production systems and animal welfare. The criteria should cover the entire life of the animal, from birth, breeding conditions, to transportation and slaughter. However, for such labeling to be effective, it must be mandatory.

Firstly, because mandatory labeling is a more effective harmonization tool and is more likely to be perceived as reliable by consumers, meaning it is more likely to influence their consumer choices and be integrated into the decision-making process. Secondly, because the reduced coverage of a voluntary label would not provide incentives to switch to higher welfare products in the same way that mandatory labeling could.