International Conference on Animal Welfare

Federal Minister Christian Schmidt

Speech by Christian Schmidt, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, at the International Conference on Animal Welfare in Copenhagen on 29 April 2015

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I. European animal welfare policy

Animal protection and animal welfare are high on the political agenda. There is hardly any other issue which is discussed so emotionally. However, livestock farming in Europe and in Germany is also an important mainstay of the agricultural sector, and one that we want to keep.

More animal welfare could provide a clear competitive edge for our European pig farmers on the international market if we implement technically sound, knowledge-based measures and promote innovative solutions.

I therefore consider it particularly important to emphasise the importance of research in the debate on animal welfare. We will not be able to achieve clean, practicable solutions unless we have sound technical knowledge. Ladies and Gentlemen, we depend on your work!

Today's international animal welfare conference also shows how important a scientific approach to animal welfare is and how urgently it is required. This conference also shows us something else: If we want to achieve more animal welfare, our policies must not stop at national borders, since animal welfare does not stop at one's own doorstep.

Our markets are closely interlinked by commodity flows in the livestock industry. It is only by agreeing jointly upon an animal welfare strategy that we will be able to bring about a fair internal market and fair conditions for farm animals. We need to make sure that we proceed at the same pace with out animal welfare policies!

However, priority should not only be given to distributing responsibility fairly among all European stakeholders, but also to improved networking between researchers, policy makers and practitioners. To my mind, we have succeeded very well in this area over these last few months!

European cooperation is showing tangible success. Last December, I joined my Danish colleague Dan Jørgensen and my Dutch colleague Sharon Dijksma in signing a joint Declaration on Animal Welfare in Europe. This declaration puts particular focus on improved cooperation, more transparent knowledge transfer and simplification of the regulatory environment.

Now we want to seize the opportunity provided by this conference to improve animal welfare in pig farming. Scientific evidence, technological innovation and socio-economic developments have resulted in a need for adaptation in pig farming.

We – Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany - are currently working on a common position on pig welfare in Europe, which we hope to use to urge the EU Commission to adapt legislation on pig welfare. Our agenda focuses on the reduction of the number of tail-docked pigs and the phasing-out of piglet castration without anesthesia. Improving husbandry conditions for gravid sows and in farrowing crates is also necessary, and scientific solutions need to be found for these issues!

A European animal welfare policy also means learning from each other and driving independent national policies forward. I very much welcome the fact that the Dutch industry has now also embraced the principle of a "binding voluntary approach" and launched an industry initiative for sustainable pig farming at the beginning of this year.

It is my goal to achieve tangible improvements for the animals within a reasonable time frame without losing sight of the profitability of livestock production. Let's seize the opportunity to turn animal welfare "made in Europe" into a true brand name in international competition!

II. National Animal Welfare Initiative

Today you explored and discussed scientific innovation and options for more animal welfare in pig farming in great detail. My initiative "Minding animals - new ways to improve animal welfare" follows exactly this overriding guideline of having a strong scientific approach and drawing up practicable solutions!

The in-ovo sexing of chicks is one positive example of the success of innovative research. This project was sponsored by my Ministry and implemented by the University of Leipzig, and I am impressed by the enormous progress it has made. Yes, it works, and the alternatives are there for the killing of chicks to be stopped. It is now a matter of making these alternatives ready for practical application.

This also applies to the current method. It is consumers who can tip the scales. Markets must supply edible meat that can be reconciled with our animal welfare standards. We have therefore made it legally binding that as of the beginning in 2019 piglets may only be castrated using anaesthesia.

There are alternatives to castration without anaesthesia. My Ministry and the industry are anxious to continue to develop these alternatives until they are ready for practical application. We are already sponsoring some research projects to this effect. I do not think that there will be one particular solution. Instead, the methods of production should be dovetailed with the specific regional conditions. In my view, retailers have a clear obligation to sell the meat of young boars if the conversion is to be successful.

Stopping the practice of tail-docking is another issue. I particularly appeal to the industry in this regard to adopt voluntary agreements to gradually and jointly put an end to the illicit practice of tail-docking. I am aware that we need to offer the respective alternatives. An abrupt termination of this practice would, due to the resultant tail-biting, lead to conditions contrary to animal welfare.

We are currently testing innovative practices in model and demonstration farms. We are investigating whether piglets and pigs scale down tail biting if the stocking density and the pen structure are changed. The use of manipulable material also has an impact on their behaviour. In addition to that, we also support extension services on animal welfare, providing targeted guidance for farms phasing out the practice of tail-docking.

It is up to researchers and practitioners to probe in more detail the behaviour of pigs and the risk factors for tail biting. In my opinion there is no other option but to hold the entire production chain accountable, in order for us to both remain competitive on global markets and be able to phase out tail-docking smoothly.

The fact is that we can only afford animal welfare and implement it fairly if everyone pulls in the same direction, both at national and at international level.

III. Conclusion

Europe is in the vanguard of animal welfare. We need to continue to expand this role in order to maintain livestock rearing in Europe and be competitive. Our credo should be: Cut red tape, boost innovation! I want to pave the way for more animal welfare not by imposing bans but by providing constructive, innovative responses for the benefit of the animals and to promote a competitive, quality-orientated meat production sector in Germany. I firmly support pig farming in Europe and in Germany.

Let us use this platform to continue developing our strategies in dialogue, and let us all take concerted action to improve animal welfare. And, most of all, let's seize the opportunity to learn about the latest scientific findings.


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