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Minding animals - new ways to improve animal welfare

Concept paper

Animals are our fellow creatures. Ensuring their welfare is an obligation for all people handling animals. Since 2002, animal welfare has been enshrined as a State goal in the German Basic Law and has therefore become a binding guideline for government action.

Animal welfare has increasingly become a matter of particular interest to society. In surveys, 85 percent of the people questioned agree that animal protection should be enhanced.

With its "Minding animals" initiative, the BMEL is implementing the Animal Welfare Campaign set out in the coalition agreement. Animal welfare associations, the industry, the federal states and the scientific community are already engaged in working out many proposals and measures. The industry initiative for animal welfare by the German Farmers' Association and the trade and the animal welfare label of the German animal welfare federation (Deutscher Tierschutzbund) constitute voluntary measures that combine practical progress in animal welfare with value-added for producers and consumers.

A single nationwide framework is needed for these important contributions in order to achieve wide-ranging improvement in animal husbandry. With its initiative, the BMEL is assuming responsibility for the coordination of the challenges that need to be pooled and those that may need to be governed by legislation at federal level. There is no other way to achieve nationwide improvements in animal welfare in Germany. The initiative sees itself as an ongoing process and as a communal effort by politics, industry and civil society.

The initiative is aimed at providing consumers and animal keepers with a reliable framework to effectively improve the way animals are kept in Germany with their consumption and investment decisions. "Minding animals" is important when it comes to the treatment of farm animals but also with regard to laboratory animals and companion animals, e.g. horses.

Improved animal welfare requires the careful consideration of technical, ethical and economic aspects as animal husbandry is an important backbone of our farming families. It is therefore the aim of the initiative to bring about concrete and measurable improvements in the field of animal welfare that are determined by what is economically and scientifically feasible. The initiative thus also contributes to the lasting competitiveness and societal acceptance of animal husbandry in Germany.

The initiative's guiding principle is a "binding voluntary approach" and it's initially focussed on the industry taking its own initiative. However, where the industry's commitment fails to result in the necessary improvements, a change in the regulatory framework may also prove necessary.

Key elements of the BMEL initiative

1. Mandatory examination of compliance with animal welfare requirements already when series-produced housing equipment is being developed

Producers of housing equipment will in the future have to undergo a type-approval procedure for every new equipment under which the housing equipment is thoroughly checked by experts for compliance with animal welfare requirements. Experiences with such approval procedures have already been made in Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. In a first step, introduction has been suggested for laying hen housing systems.

After discussion of this approval procedure with all parties involved, the BMEL will present a draft ordinance in the first half of the year 2015.

2. Ending non-curative interventions performed on farm animals

Animal housings and animal husbandry management must be adapted to the animals' needs – not the other way round. To allow for a quick implementation, the BMEL prefers voluntary agreements of the industry with mandatory deadlines to abandon certain procedures such as the tail-docking of pigs, the beak-trimming of laying hens and turkeys or the painful dehorning of cattle. The BMEL brings together actors from science, industry and animal welfare organisations and facilitates the process leading to such binding phasing-out agreements.

It is planned to present the draft version of a voluntary agreement during the first quarter of 2015, aimed at reaching a voluntary industry commitment during the third quarter of 2015. The timeframe will depend on the progress made in science and practice with the help of BMEL-funded research as well as model and demonstration projects.

3. Improving the specialist knowledge of animal keepers

The treatment, care and slaughter of animals in line with animal welfare requirements will be improved by enhanced knowledge and skills of the people handling farm animals. To this end, it is planned to discuss the legal incorporation of further specialist knowledge requirements with all stakeholders and implement the conclusions in 2015.

Particularly in the case of large animal installations, it can be helpful to appoint an expert with the relevant professional qualification as animal welfare officer.

4. Further development of animal welfare in the slaughter of animals

Requirements with regard to the caging, stunning and killing of fish and crustaceans and, where necessary, further requirements with regard to the culling of warm-blooded animals will be incorporated into the Ordinance on animal welfare during slaughter (Animal Welfare Slaughter Ordinance) by the end of 2015.

The current problematic issue of the slaughtering of heavily pregnant animals constitutes a major challenge for all economic stakeholders as such slaughters should be avoided. The BMEL brings these efforts into focus by way of initiatives at EU level, research activities and – if necessary – legal amendments.

5. Strengthening consumer awareness – better coordination of initiatives launched by the industry and the German animal welfare federation

Growing consumer awareness results in demands on animal keepers that may impose significant costs. The BMEL therefore welcomes all measures on the demand side that contribute to improved animal husbandry conditions. The animal welfare label of the German animal welfare federation, the further development of which is supported by the BMEL, and the industry initiative for animal welfare provide consumers with the opportunity to support animal welfare concerns with their shopping carts. Thanks to such initiatives, concrete improvements in the field of animal welfare are also paying off for the producers. The better coordinated they are, the more effective they will be.

6. Moving forward animal welfare at international and EU level

Higher and more harmonised animal welfare standards will have to be implemented at EU level and within the framework of international organisations (OECD, OIE). The joint declaration with Denmark and the Netherlands for a systematic development of the level of animal welfare in the EU specifically serves this purpose. With a view to providing better information to consumers, the BMEL will urge the new EU Commission to introduce an EU animal welfare label.

7. Strengthening research for more animal welfare

The foundations and framework conditions for animal welfare will, above all, be improved by the Centre of competence on animal welfare with a network of demonstration farms to be established (starting in early 2015), the development and standardised assessment of animal welfare indicators (by the end of 2015) and by improved housing systems and research e.g. on the societal expectations towards animal husbandry (such as "social labs" under the innovation programme of the Thünen Institute, etc.). The research strategy "Animal" of the German agricultural research alliance (Deutsche Agrarforschungsallianz) is taken into consideration in this respect.

The culling of 45 million male chicks every year must be stopped. The results of the research project on sex determination of chicken eggs will probably be available in early 2015. The BMEL will actively accompany the translation into concrete practice of a successfully developed procedure to determine the sex in eggs and advocate a speedy end to the culling practice.

The federal government bill for the BMEL budget 2015 provides for federal grants for model and demonstration projects in the field of animal welfare in the amount of € 5 million. The BMEL's departmental research, the promotion of welfare-conscious animal husbandry practices under the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection and the grants for the promotion of organic farming and other sustainable forms of agriculture also play an important role in improving animal welfare.

With its expert report on ways to a socially accepted animal husbandry, the Scientific Advisory Board on Agricultural Policy will make a valuable contribution to the animal welfare initiative. This report will also discuss which farm sizes are compatible with welfare-oriented animal husbandry, a question that is currently also dealt with in the scope of other research projects.

8. Group of Experts on Animal Welfare

For permanent feedback between the BMEL and all stakeholders, a Group of Experts on Animal Welfare will be established in October 2014 for a period of two years. Practitioners, scientists, representatives of social groups and professional associations, animal-welfare and consumer organisations and churches will accompany the implementation of the animal welfare initiative and make additional proposals.

9. Limiting the number of laboratory animals

The number of laboratory animals must be limited to the minimum level necessary, in line with the unavoidable scientific and safety-related requirements. The Centre for Documentation and Evaluation of Alternatives to Animal Experiments (ZEBET) will be expanded and will intensify its activities in the field of research on alternative methods to animal testing and its consulting services for authorities and researchers. In the future, ZEBET will also be involved in improving the husbandry conditions of laboratory animals (refinement). ZEBET will take on new documentation and consulting duties in connection with the new legislative state of play regarding the protection of laboratory animals.

In addition to the BMBF support for research on alternative methods to animal testing, the BMEL annually awards the Animal Welfare Research Prize for outstanding research works in this field and supports the "Foundation for the support of research into alternative methods to animal experiments".

10. More animal welfare also for pet and assistance animals

Measures to fight the illegal trade in puppies will be intensified in collaboration with the federal states and local authorities.

Together with the German Equestrian Federation (FN), the BMEL awards an animal welfare prize in the various disciplines for the particularly humane handling of horses.

The expert reports and guidelines published by the BMEL will be examined with regard to necessary adaptations to the latest scientific findings and, if relevant, revised after prioritisation. The new mammal expert report on the keeping of non-domesticated animals was already presented on 7 May 2014.

As of:
16.12.14

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