Do Countries Comply With E.U. Animal Welfare Laws?
The animal welfare movement has pushed for higher farmed animal welfare standards in law with success for many years. However, these laws are only good when they are also being practiced in reality. Compliance with animal welfare laws is not automatic and often requires enforcement actions. Therefore it is vital that attention is given to whether these standards are properly implemented. This report by Rethink Priorities focuses on legislative protections in the European Union and details the mechanisms by which compliance with welfare standards is sought.
The report outlines a general framework for compliance in the E.U. and shows case studies of major species-specific welfare directives as examples of this system succeeding or failing. The authors hope that this will highlight what a robust system will look like and what bottlenecks and opportunities can be seized on to improve animal lives.
The E.U. Compliance System
In general, member states are entrusted to translate E.U. directives into national laws that define how the directive is implemented. The E.U. Commission then conducts audits to check that member states are enforcing the laws. The E.U. uses a combination of cooperative and coercive measures to improve the capacity and incentives for compliance in its member states, and these measures are categorized as information, transition periods, incentives, inspections, and infringements. It is important to remember that the members of the E.U. are mainly interested in protecting the interest groups in their countries, of which the animal farming industry may be a powerful player. Animal welfare requirements are therefore often treated as a consumer information or food safety issue. Furthermore, one of the main functions of the E.U. is to reduce internal barriers to trading goods and services, and to protect member states from unfair competition. Therefore, it is no surprise that animal welfare is not prioritized or complied with. Rather, one should be surprised that animal welfare has been given any legal or enforcement at all.
How Bad Is Noncompliance?
The E.U. is often held up as a high benchmark for the stringency of animal welfare laws. It remains the case however, that many E.U. countries still appear to fall short when these laws are applied in practice. Despite current efforts to develop new animal welfare laws and improve standards, there is still too little attention paid to the development of proper systems that can ensure that these standards are actually met. Because of this, even countries regarded as having high national animal welfare protection regularly fail to meet legal requirements. In most regions however, there is a direct positive relationship between the country’s material wealth and its level of legislation and enforcement. The E.U. itself has acknowledged that the level of enforcement of legislation has been insufficient.
The foremost reasons for noncompliance, according to a survey of chief veterinary officers, are unclear regulations and farmer attitudes towards laws and regulations. This same survey showed that the most effective tools for enforcement were considered to be national inspections and national or E.U. audits. Enforcement barriers are, however, a sign that member states have failed to properly apply and enforce the E.U. laws.
The Case Studies
The case studies describe the major species-specific welfare directives, and show where the enforcement tools failed or were successful. The directives studied are restrictions on battery cages, sow stalls, and veal crates, as well as restrictions on pig tail docking and broiler chicken stocking density.
The case studies suggest that campaigns to pass farmed animal welfare laws may be less effective than assumed if they do not consider the noncompliance of these laws. Without the additional pressure from animal advocacy organizations, lobbyists, agricultural associations, and governments, many producers would have continued to ignore these laws without consequence. Long-term noncompliance could even lead to the repeal of some laws.
With regards to these case studies and animal suffering, a few conclusions can be made:
- ~33 million to ~97 million hens (9%-27% of EU total) a year may have illegally remained in conventional battery cages for up to five years if additional enforcement action was not taken.
- ~1 million to ~2.5 million sows (8%-19% of EU total) a year may have illegally remained in individual stalls for up to seven years if additional enforcement action was not taken.
- ~52 million to ~116 million pigs (35%-86% of EU total) on average are being tail docked without the required alternative methods for reducing tail biting being implemented.
- ~1.5 billion to ~4.6 billion broiler chickens slaughtered each year (21%-66% of EU total) may be stocked at high densities without the required additional welfare conditions.
Which Animal Welfare Enforcement Tools Have Been Effective Historically?
The phasing out of existing housing systems and the use of transition periods for implementation of new systems do not seem to be very effective tools for animal welfare improvements. The same goes for funding programs and audits carried out by E.U. agencies. Investigations, campaigns, and complaints by animal welfare groups are categorized as moderately promising, however it is unclear if these interventions lead to political action. The three most promising tools, as suggested by the authors, have been (1) the legal actions of the EU, where compliance was facilitated within allowed grace periods for a majority of noncompliant countries; (2) inspections and fines from national authorities, but only where the fines were proportionate; and (3) national laws, partly by bridging the gap between existing standards and E.U. standards and partly by creating a minimum number of countries and producers that are compliant who can then pressure their governments for wider EU enforcement and compliance.
What More Can We Do?
The authors suggest two potentially promising avenues by which to increase pressure for compliance to animal welfare laws: noncompliance awareness campaigns and litigation in administrative courts.
Where there is reluctance from inspectors or their political directors, NGO investigations can highlight noncompliance to the industry itself as well as the public through “accountability campaigns.” Many examples can be found where investigations by animal groups have led to media coverage and government action increasing enforcement. However, the actual effectiveness of awareness campaigns on reducing noncompliance is not yet clear and requires further academic study.
Litigation in administrative courts could be an effective way to force operators and national authorities to improve their compliance and enforcement. This can be done by launching legal actions against national inspection agencies for either not consistently enforcing animal welfare laws or for not enforcing them at all. This route can be particularly effective in countries with more established and better-funded animal welfare movements, but is less suitable for countries suffering from deeper problems in the effectiveness of the judicial system.