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Press release

Animal Welfare: European Commission supports research to improve animal breeding and food quality

 

Brussels, 24 April 2002

Key words : animal welfare, livestock production, organic, farming, consumer opinion

 


How are animals fed and treated? In the aftermath of the mad cow and other food scare crises, European consumers are more and more concerned about "farm to fork" food safety and where their food comes from. . EU research can help improve animal breeding and living conditions. The European Commission discussed farm animal welfare research at European level with researchers and other stakeholders during a seminar held in Brussels yesterday. Participants addressed results achieved so far by EU-supported research, and identified European Union's requirements for future research in this area. The Commission currently supports projects directly related to animal welfare with €7.5 million. In addition, several animal health projects also contain aspects of welfare research. Research projects examined transport of cattle over long distances, animal welfare in organic farming, feather pecking in poultry and consumer concerns. This is the first time that scientists involved in EU-funded research are brought together with representatives of consumer and welfare groups to discuss how research can help implement and develop innovative animal welfare and food safety policies.

Improving animal welfare is an increasingly important aspect of intensive livestock production due, to a large extent, to increased consumer concern about the source of animal products. The European Commission has supported animal welfare research projects under the current and previous European research and development Framework programmes. These projects focus directly on welfare-related research and also on public opinion about animal welfare issues. The forthcoming Sixth Framework programme (2002-2006) will look into animal welfare as a part of policy-related research, with the aim of providing healthy food supplies and exploring new fields of research.
Recently completed and ongoing projects from the Fourth and Fifth Framework programmes, include work on transport of cattle over long distances, animal welfare in organic farming, poultry genetics and feather pecking in chickens and a study on public attitudes to welfare issues (see annex for details). Other projects have tackled important issues such as welfare of veal calf production, genes associated with stress in pigs and locomotory dysfunction in turkeys. Projects involve partners from countries throughout the EU and the associated states.
Beyond the projects leading to direct improvements for animal welfare and food quality, the project on organic farming revealed that, while there is evidence that organic standards have a positive impact on animal welfare, animal health on organic farms is not necessarily better than on conventional farms. The project on consumer opinion was made complex due to the difference between what the public says it wants and actual purchasing behaviour regarding animal products. Nevertheless, the project provides a base on which to build both research and policy that meet society's demands.
The demand for more welfare-conscious production systems may also engender costs that have an impact on the trade of animals and animal products both within the EU and between the EU and the rest of the world. According to the Treaty of Amsterdam, the European Commission must take into account animal welfare issues when formulating policy and it regularly consults a scientific committee on animal welfare issues.
Under the next Framework programme (2002-2006) research into animal welfare is planned as a part of policy-related research as well as in the context of providing a healthy food supply and potential research areas will be defined in the near future. The workshop, thus, comes at an opportune time for EU-supported welfare research.

For additional information, please contact:

  • John Claxton, Head of Unit, DG research, european commission Tel.: +32.2.295.0477 - Fax: +32.2.295.8220
    E-mail : john.claxton@ec.europa.eu
  • Stéphane Hogan, Press Officer, DG research, european commission Tel.: +32.2.296.2965 - Fax: +32.2.295.8220
    E-mail : Research Contact


ANNEX:


Animal welfare research projects supported by the European Commission
The European Commission currently supports projects related directly to welfare with over €7.5 million. In addition, several animal health projects (not included here) also contain aspects of welfare research. Ongoing or recently completed projects include:

Transport of cattle (QLK5-CT-1999-01507)

One project is examining the effects of transporting cattle over different distances. The project shows that significant physiological and biochemical reactions, as markers of stress, occur during loading and unloading of animals. Although the cattle show some adaptation to long journeys, they do develop an energy deficiency after several hours of transport making regular breaks a necessity. The project has also highlighted differences between cows, bulls and steers in their reaction to transport, complicating the issue of making standard regulations on their movement. In addition, it has shown that animals tire very rapidly when roads are bad or when the standard of driving is poor (EU contribution: €1.8m).

More on projects in the 5th FP: http://ec.europa.eu/research/quality-of-life/ka5

Welfare in organic farming (FAIR-CT-1998-04405)

A project on organic farming and its implications on animal welfare is coming to a close. It shows that, while organic standards appear to have a positive impact on animal welfare, animal health on organic farms is no better than on conventional farms. The project indicates that it is important to formulate a philosophical definition of animal welfare on organic farms in order to help solve potential conflicts between welfare and other aims of organic farming, such as public health protection. It also highlights the need for research into welfare on organic systems reflecting the practice and experience of organic farmers and including research on the suitability of different breeds to organic farming (EU contribution €0.3m).

Feather pecking in poultry (FAIR-CT-1997-03576)

Traditional battery cages will be banned in the EU from 2012 but the increased risk of feather pecking has been a major obstacle to the adoption of alternative housing systems. Feather pecking consists of pecking and pulling at the feathers of other birds. It can damage plumage, impose an economic burden through increased feed intake, injure the birds and sometimes lead to cannibalism and painful death of birds. Current remedial measures (beak trimming, low light) have associated welfare problems. A recently completed project shows that a high degree of sociability between chickens is inversely associated with feather pecking, so that selection for sociability helps to reduce the problem. In addition, environmental enrichment with simple devices, such as plain coloured polypropylene string, were shown to reduce pecking, apparently by encouraging preening behaviour aimed at the string. This was shown to be the case in commercial as well as in experimental set-ups (EU contribution €0.6m).

Consumer concerns (FAIR-CT-1998-03678)

In another recently completed project, researchers examined consumer concerns to animal welfare. The project found that consumers were concerned with animal welfare, though not as a priority in its own right: welfare was seen as an indicator of good food standards, so that high welfare production was associated with food quality, safety and healthiness. In addition, it appears that, while consumers demand more information on animal production in order to make informed choices, they also engage in voluntary ignorance in order to abrogate responsibility for animal welfare. Similarly, while stating a willingness to pay more for improved animal welfare, these claims are not translated into practice in many cases. Consumers want basic information about methods of production on all animal-based food products labels, including imported products, as well as more detailed background information at point of purchase. The project also identifies a series of measures that the EU will need to consider when addressing consumer concerns about animal welfare, such as agricultural reform, legal definitions for labelling and advocacy of farm animal welfare in negotiations with the World Trade Organisation (EU contribution €0.7m).

More on projects in the 4th FP: http://ec.europa.eu/research/agro/fair/en/index.html

              

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