Today, 20 May 2020, the EU Commission released its new food policy vision – the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, which aims to reform the way the EU produces and consumes food. We welcome this development as the EU Commission commits to improving animal welfare legislation and making agriculture more sustainable. Nonetheless, we regret the timid approach the EU Commission has taken on some issues, which we fear will not lead to the much-needed systemic change.
Now more than ever, EU leaders must be ambitious in ending factory farming and pushing for sustainable diets, in order to create sustainable and resilient food systems and diminish the risk of new crises like Covid-19.
Improving animal welfare
The ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy lays out plans to ‘revise the animal welfare legislation, including on animal transport and the slaughter of animals’.
We welcome this development. We hope that the EU will end the unnecessary suffering of animals in long-distance transport and will end the exports of live animals to third countries. We also hope that the revision of the slaughter regulation will outright prohibit certain cruel killing methods, such as those with a high concentration of CO2 in a confined space, and will also solve the problem of ineffective stunning methods.
More importantly, however, we call on the EU Commission to make a critical decision to propose a phase out on the use of cages in farming, in line with the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘End the Cage Age,’ as well as demands by MEPs and NGOs. Once presented with the certificates with the verified signatures from the European Citizens’ Initiative, the EU Commission must listen to the citizens’ call.
We also call for new species-specific legislation for animals for whom it is so far lacking, such as fish. Fish are sensitive beings, like mammals and birds. We can’t hear their joy, happiness, fear or pain – but they do have feelings. Together with MEPs, we are calling on the EU to better protect fish, as the current farm animal welfare legislation does not offer sufficient protection for these sentient beings.
Improving our diets
In the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, the EU Commission recognises that our ‘food consumption patterns are unsustainable’, and that the EU average ‘consumption of whole-grain cereals, fruit and vegetables, legumes and nuts is insufficient.’ It has also proposed to establish ‘minimum mandatory criteria for sustainable food procurement’.
Unfortunately, the agribusiness lobby appears to have been able to successfully push for last-minute changes to the detriment of human and animal well-being. In an earlier leaked version of the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, the EU Commission seemed more ambitious and visionary by referring to its intention to 'stop stimulating the production or the consumption of meat'. To recall, the Commission has clarified that between 2016 and 2019, EUR 138.7 million were allocated to campaigns promoting meat and meat products.
Moreover, the leaked version was much more ambitious about reforming the EU farming subsidies, to better align them with the 'Farm to Fork' strategy. It had stated that "the Commission will work with the co-legislators to ensure that the Green Deal ambition is fully reflected in the new CAP legislation." Now in the final version, this reference no longer appears.
Based on today’s publication, we renew our call on the EU to set ambitious targets to reduce the production and consumption of animal products, including fish. Instead of subsidising industrial animal agriculture, the EU must shift subsidies to encourage farmers to grow plants instead. Any EU food promotion funds must exclusively be used to stimulate better, plant-rich diets. Prices of animal products must also better reflect the negative externalities from industrial animal agriculture, and plant-based options must be made more affordable to consumers.
Improving information to consumers
Through the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, the EU Commission has also committed to ‘consider options for animal welfare labelling'.
Currently, by law, EU egg producers & retailers must clearly label whether hens have been raised in caged, barn, free-range or organic systems. The EU must now extend this method of production labelling system to all meat and dairy products.
An earlier leaked version of the strategy stated that ‘[u]sing labelling to link production methods to (premium) consumer demand will enhance opportunities for farmers.’ Now in the final text the reference to the method of production labelling has been deleted and replaced by much weaker language which may not make a real difference for animals: "to better transmit value through the food chain."
Head of Compassion in World Farming EU, Olga Kikou, says: "It is great to see a desire for change. While it was disappointing to see ambitious elements of the Farm to Fork strategy being deleted due to meat industry pressure at the last minute, we are hopeful that the EU will eventually push for the much-needed food revolution. We cannot continue with business as usual. For the sake of preventing our food system from collapsing, the EU must end factory farming. This won’t happen with a few minor tweaks but through ambitious, systemic change.”
Olga adds: “The EU must take a two-pronged approach – improving animal welfare and reducing meat production and consumption. First, the EU must destroy the symbol of the factory farm – THE CAGE. Cages lead to tremendous animal suffering, facilitate the intensification process and agri-business consolidation, thereby leading to further destruction of the environment. Second, the EU must set ambitious targets to reduce the production and consumption of animal products. It must stop promoting meat and subsidising factory farming. We hope that the EU Parliament will stand up to the challenge now and push for a revolution in our food system.”
Together with the two other leading EU animal welfare NGOs Four Paws and World Animal Protection, we sent out a joint press release to inform journalists about our positions. We called for an end to the use of cages, improving diets with more plant-rich foods, and an end to the trade in wild animals.
Earlier this year, we contributed to the public consultation on the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy. Please click here to view our submission.