The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has backed European Parliament calls for a science-based European animal welfare framework law.  MEPs are advocating new rules on labelling including non-stun slaughter, better controls and tough sanctions, equivalent welfare standards for imported animals and products, and species-specific welfare legislation.

MEPs sent a strong signal to the European Commission to come forward with a holistic EU strategy on animal welfare by adopting Swedish MEP Marit Paulsen's report on 4 July.  The resolution, drawn up in response to the Commission's Animal Welfare Strategy 2012-2015, calls for an unambiguous and transparent approach based on scientific evidence to protect the welfare of all animals kept by humans (zoo and farm animals as well as pets) and public health while stimulating productivity and competitiveness in Europe's livestock sector.

Welcoming the report, BVA President Carl Padgett said:

"As a profession we are delighted that the report emphasises the importance of scientific evidence and that animal welfare requirements should be evaluated on the basis on the latest scientific knowledge."

The report also supports the BVA's call for meat and products from non-stun slaughter to be labelled.  MEPs are calling for the new rules on labelling to prevent abuses and inform consumers about farming methods and animal welfare. The report found that derogations for un-stunned slaughter have been exploited in some Member States leading to complaints in petitions to the European Parliament.  MEPs are asking the Commission to consider creating an un-stunned slaughter label.

Endorsing this call, Mr Padgett continued:

"I am particularly pleased that MEPs have highlighted this important issue. The BVA has long advocated that animals should be effectively stunned before slaughter.  However, as long as slaughter without stunning is permitted by an EU derogation that allows slaughter by a religious method for certain communities, the BVA has argued for any meat from this source to be clearly labelled to enable all consumers to make an informed choice when purchasing such products.

 "We believe that slaughter without pre-stunning unnecessarily compromises animal welfare - a view that is supported by the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, and backed up by science.  By ensuring that all meat from animals that are not stunned only enters the specific communities that it is targeted at, we can make a significant difference." 

During the debate on the report MEPs also spoke in favour of increasing the resources of the EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) in order to adequately control animal welfare inspections carried out by Member States and to investigate and penalise non-compliance.

"Robust enforcement of animal welfare legislation must be a priority," Mr Padgett added.  "And I would echo comments made by BVA Honorary Associate George Lyon MEP who said that, as with the battery hens, there are serious concerns that the EU-wide ban on sow stalls that will come into force next January will not be fully implemented by all Member States in time, damaging the competitiveness of those producers who already comply with the improved welfare rules."

Referring to species-specific proposals and trade with third countries, Mr Padgett concluded:

"The BVA was concerned that the Commission's EU welfare strategy made no reference to welfare guidance for dairy cattle and there was a lack of measures relating to companion animals, so I am heartened that MEPs are now urging the Commission to consider new animal welfare legislation to cover all kept animals, including dairy cows, and also cats, dogs and other domestic pets, which are currently not specifically protected by any EU law.

"Higher welfare standards in Europe must not be compromised by cheaper, lower welfare imports from elsewhere and to that end I welcome the European Parliament's request that welfare issues should be part of EU dialogue with third countries and that the Commission should promote animal welfare in third countries by including equivalence to EU standards as a requirement for imported products."  

The Commission is expected to table an EU-wide animal welfare framework law in 2013.