Countless domestic and wild animals suffer and die at the hands of humans every day. For many, physical and psychological abuse, neglect and maltreatment are a daily reality.
In France, the Penal Code makes it an offence to seriously abuse or commit an act of cruelty to a domestic animal. Some European countries – the UK, Germany and Belgium in particular – have been much quicker at addressing this issue than other Member States.
In the UK, for example, animal abusers can be sentenced to up to five years in prison. In Wallonia, an animal welfare code adopted in 2018 means that abusers can be sentenced to 10-15 years in prison and fined up to EUR 10 million.
With European citizens calling for the plight of domestic and wild animals to be relieved, and EU policies enabling the Commission to better enforce legislation and fund important research on animal welfare, how will the Commission ensure that a common approach is taken against cruelty to domestic and wild animals?
EU animal welfare measures are among the most comprehensive in the world. The Commission works consistently to ensure uniform application of EC law in all Member States. However, except for the prohibition of the use of leg hold traps implemented under Council Regulation (EEC) No 3254/91, the welfare of wild animals remains under the sole competence of the Member States (1).
In the areas under Union competence, the Commission committed under the Farm to Fork Strategy (2) to revise, by 2023, the EU animal welfare legislation to align it with the latest scientific evidence, broaden its scope, make it easier to enforce and ultimately ensure a higher level of animal welfare.
In addition, the Commission replied positively to a European Citizens’ Initiative by proposing, as part of this revision, to phase out and finally prohibit the use of cages in certain categories of farmed animals. An Inception Impact Assessment roadmap has been published and an open public consultation was conducted to prepare this legislative revision (3).
Within this process the Commission is also assessing possible options for harmonised rules for the commercial keeping and sale of dogs. The European Parliament has also recently adopted a set of recommendations for the protection of animals during transport, which will also feed into the revision of the animal welfare legislation.
The directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (4) governs their use in research and testing. It requires all avoidable pain, suffering and distress to be eliminated and animals used in scientific procedures to be purpose-bred.
However, a competent authority may grant an exemption, e.g., for wildlife research for which purpose-bred animals would not suffice.
(4) Directive 2010/63/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, OJ L 276, 20.10.2010, p. 33‐79.