EU backs plan to move away from intensive animal farming

Pig in a cage, pig free with babies, photo: Compassion in World Farming
Pig in a cage, pig free with babies, photo: Compassion in World Farming

The European Parliament on Tuesday voted in favor of an ambitious EU plan to make farming more sustainable, in a move praised by animal welfare and environmental organizations.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have recognized the need to shift away from intensive farming to protect human and animal health and wellbeing by voting for the Farm to Fork strategy, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) said in a statement.

A majority of 452 MEPs welcomed the Farm to Fork strategy that will enable the transition to a sustainable food system and reduce the environmental and climate footprint of the farming industry; 170 MEPs voted against, and there were 76 abstentions.

The Farm to Fork strategy includes recommendations on the future of farmers, healthier food, pesticides, protection of pollinators, greenhouse gas emissions, organic farming, and animal welfare.

“Current EU policies are driving environmentally harmful farming models,” Anja Hazekamp, rapporteur for the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, said. Hazekamp drafted the Farm to Fork strategy report with Herbert Dormann, rapporteur for the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

“We propose concrete measures to bring our food system back within planetary boundaries by stimulating local food production and by moving away from intensive livestock farming and crop monocultures with high pesticide use,” Hazekamp said.

Animals in cages
The recommendations on animal welfare include the end of using cages in EU animal farming, banning non-EU animal products from countries that don’t have the same animal welfare standards and reviewing EU animal welfare legislation. It also addresses the connection between animal welfare and zoonotic diseases.

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) called the adaption of the Farm to Fork strategy a victory for farm animals, people and the planet. CIWF said it sent a “strong signal” to the European Commission and EU members about the need to improve farm animal welfare standards. 

Over 300 million farm animals in Europe spend all or much of their lives imprisoned in cages which causes “tremendous suffering and favours the spread of diseases,” CIWF said. 

A shift away from these farming practices, it added, “has the potential to promote higher standards of animal health and welfare, while significantly reducing the spread of pandemics.” 

Reduce animal suffering
During Tuesday’s parliamentary debate, Hazekamp said that investing in plant-based diets “has the power to spare animals the suffering inflicted on them behind the closed doors of factory farms.” 

“By strengthening animal welfare legislation, we can reduce the worst suffering that goes on behind the closed doors of barns, trucks, ships and slaughterhouses,” she added.

“Parliament’s recognition of the risks associated with intensive animal agriculture and its call for a faster move away from factory farming has the potential to be a turning point,” said CIWF’s Olga Kikou. 

Kikou urged the European Commission and EU governments to “act swiftly” to implement the new policy. Kikou also congratulated MEPs “for resisting strong pressure” from the agribusiness lobby that appears keen to see factory farming continue. 

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) called the vote “a hugely important sign of support” for the initiative that aims to cut pesticide use in half by 2030, reduce fertilizer use and commit 25 percent of farming land as organic.

‘EU is ready to change’
The following steps toward implementing the new policy will require the European Commission to draft and pass a suitable legal framework to support the policy. 

“The EU is ready to lead this positive change,” tweeted Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. “Together we will ensure sustainable food production for both humans and the planet.”

She added that food producers, farmers and fishers are the key actors to make this happen.

“Eurogroup for Animals welcomes the overall result of the Farm to Fork Strategy own initiative report and now calls on the European Commission to make the changes needed for a sustainable, animal-friendly food system,” Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals, said in a press release.

“Now that the EU Parliament has fully supported the strategy, focus will turn to its implementation and the upcoming national Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plans. The Commission and Member States should now ensure the integration of the Farm to Fork and its targets into their CAP plans,” was the response of the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN).

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