With the support and close co-operation of the Member States, the European Commission has been promoting animal welfare for over 40 years gradually improving the lives of farm animals. An important step in 1998 was Council Directive 98/58/EC on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes which gave general rules for the protection of animals of all species kept for the production of food, wool, skin or fur or for other farming purposes, including fish, reptiles or amphibians. These rules are based on the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes and they reflect the so-called 'Five Freedoms':
Freedom from hunger and thirst
Freedom from discomfort
Freedom from pain, injury and disease
Freedom to express normal behaviour
Freedom from fear and distress
When the Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009 it amended the 'Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union' (TFEU) and introduced the recognition that animals are sentient beings. Article 13 of Title II states that:
"In formulating and implementing the Union's agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage."
National governments may adopt more stringent rules provided they are compatible with the provisions of the Treaty but Community legislation concerning the welfare conditions of farm animals lays down minimum standards.