Cow and calf on a meadow The BMEL lobbies for more animal welfare at national and EU levels, Source: photoGrapHie /

Improving animal welfare in Germany

The BMEL pursues a comprehensive strategy in the area of animal welfare. This includes numerous initiatives, one aspect of which is the amendment to the Animal Welfare Act that entered into force in July 2013.

Animal welfare as constitutional policy

In Germany, animal welfare is a national policy objective that has been enshrined in the Basic Law for the last ten years. The BMEL builds on this constitutional objective when shaping new policies. For the Federal Government, the principle focus is on animal health and animal welfare in conjunction with the highest possible product and production standards, thereby ensuring both human and animal safety. These values guide the BMEL in all areas of animal welfare – from domestic pets to agricultural livestock, from laboratory animals in research to animals that perform at the circus.

Amendment to the Animal Welfare Act in Germany

The last amendment of the Animal Welfare Act improved animal welfare in many areas and for a number of different animal species. After the promulgation of the Act on 12 July 2013 (Federal Law Gazette 2013, I p.2182), the amendment of the Animal Welfare Act came into force on 13 July 2013.

1. Implementation of the EU Laboratory Animals Directive

The amendment to the Animal Welfare Act will significantly improve the protection of laboratory animals. For example, special regulations for monkeys will be included for the first time. One key element in this regard is the near total ban on the use of apes as laboratory animals.

Animal testing plays an important role in fundamental research and the fight against serious disease. But it cannot be justified when used for the development of cosmetics. As a pioneer in European animal welfare, Germany banned this kind of testing a long time ago. The new regulations will see uniform standards for the protection of laboratory animals being introduced at a high level throughout Europe.

At the same time, the Federal Government is specifically promoting the development of alternatives to animal testing. To this end, the BMEL awards the Research Prize for the promotion of methodological work aimed at reducing and replacing animal experimentation. In addition, the BMEL provides financial support to the Foundation for the Promotion of Alternate and Complementary Methods to Reduce Animal Testing (set). Furthermore, Germany has assumed a leading role in Europe by establishing the Centre for Documentation and Evaluation of Alternatives to Animal Experiments (ZEBET) at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

Legal context

Directive 2010/63/EU of the European Parliament and the Council of 22 September 2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (Laboratory Animals Directive) came into force on 9 November 2010. It was transposed by the Member States into national legislation.

For this reason, the BMEL has tabled a draft amendment to the Animal Welfare Act and a draft for the adoption of an animal welfare/laboratory animal regulation. Both drafts are currently going through the legislative process.

2. Ban on "agony breeding"

Animal breeders have a responsibility to ensure that their breeding objectives are directed at producing vital, healthy animals that are free from pain and suffering. If animal breeders fail to consider or are unaware of the relevant correlations and implications of their actions, and if they overstep the necessary restrictions on the technical possibilities (e.g. breeding with defective genes or excessive typification), their breeding objectives run the risk of harming the welfare of animals.

The amendment to the Animal Welfare Act ensures greater legal certainty in the application of the ban on agony breeding. To this end, the BMEL has reformulated the existing ban on agony breeding to put a more suitable and easily applicable ruling into the hands of both animal breeders and the enforcement agencies.

3. Thigh branding of horses

With horses, the identification of individual animals for the purposes of animal disease control is done using an electronic transponder in conjunction with the equidae passport which is issued for every horse. The BMEL therefore advocates a ban on thigh branding for horses. However, thigh branding does play a significant role in providing a visible indication of the breeding association to which an animal belongs. The German Parliament has therefore decided that from 2019 onwards, thigh branding should only be permitted under anaesthesia – for instance via the local application of veterinary drugs. This should ensure that the principles of animal welfare are upheld while also taking the demands of various horse breeding organisations into account.

4. Animal husbandry

Animal husbandry in Germany is part of the highly specialised and globally interlinked agri-food sector. Animal-based foodstuffs make up almost 23 billion euros or 45 percent of the German agricultural sector’s overall production value. Foodstuffs from animal production such as milk, eggs and meat are popular both at home and abroad. Nevertheless, the keeping of livestock for agricultural purposes is often the subject of public debate. At the forefront here is the general public’s acceptance of animal husbandry.

An Allensbach survey found that approx. 80 percent of consumers now expect the German agricultural sector to keep livestock in an animal-friendly manner. But at the same time, many consumers suspect that poor conditions exist in livestock farming. This means that animal welfare needs to become more transparent in Germany. In this regard, initiatives such as "Farm Open Day" or the "open door" principle for livestock buildings give interested parties the chance to gain a realistic insight into modern animal husbandry, where new scientific findings on numerous aspects of animal-friendly farming methods are put into practice.

Discussion of animal welfare among the general public

The process initiated in 2011 to draw up a Charta for Agriculture and Consumers illustrates how important animal welfare is to German citizens, particularly when it comes to the treatment of farm animals. Numerous letters on this subject from members of the public and the extensive dialogue with various groups from all segments of society have reinforced the BMEL’s resolve to continue improving animal welfare in livestock farming and to ensure that husbandry conditions are aligned even more closely with the needs of the animals.

During the Charta process, it became clear that many consumers now object to practices that were once considered normal in animal husbandry. This applies to invasive operations on animals for reasons other than the treatment of disease. The BMEL takes these concerns seriously and has included provisions in the draft amendment to the Animal Welfare Act for the phasing-out of piglet castration without anaesthetic. The intention is to make this method illegal in Germany. In the medium term, the plan is for all "non-curative" operations such as tail-docking and beak-trimming to be avoided wherever possible in animal husbandry. In order to discuss the current situation and the action required on the path towards phasing out these operations, talks were held on 29 and 30 November 2012 with experts from science, industry and animal welfare.

Stricter obligations for livestock keepers

With the change to the Animal Welfare Act, producers will be under stricter obligations to ensure that animal welfare is guaranteed. Livestock keepers will be obliged to establish an inspection system and take even greater care to safeguard the well-being of their animals. Animal welfare indicators will be used to evaluate the state of the animals.

The future of animal husbandry in Germany

But the BMEL is not just changing the Animal Welfare Act. The amendment is embedded within a comprehensive strategy on the future of animal husbandry. The BMEL wants to restore the general public’s acceptance of animal husbandry in Germany. This too is a result of the discussions on the Charter for Agriculture and Consumers.

The process will be accompanied by a "Farm Animals" Research and Innovation Concept. The aim here is to establish a sound scientific foundation for measures such as the development of animal welfare indicators and the optimisation of existing housing systems. In this context, the BMEL is supporting a research project by the "Vion Food Group" in collaboration with the German Animal Welfare Association with the aim of developing a two-tier animal welfare label for the pigmeat chain. Furthermore, the BMEL is taking additional concrete steps including a package of measures to minimise the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry.

The goal is to further improve animal welfare in livestock farming and to align husbandry conditions even more closely with the needs of the animals. For example, strategies will be developed for avoiding non-curative operations (such as the beak-trimming of laying hens), and sustainable and/or particularly welfare-oriented husbandry methods will be promoted.

5. Wild animals in circuses

The keeping of circus animals represents a particular challenge due not least to the frequent changes of location and the associated issues of transportation and inadequate housing. Responsibility for the monitoring of circuses lies with the Länder.

Two circus elephants standing outside a circus tent The animal welfare regulations for circus animals cover housing, training and transport, Source: © FaceMePLS -

The BMEL has asked the Länder to provide the Federal Government with reliable data about their concrete findings from the monitoring of circuses. If it emerges that the keeping and specifically the transportation of certain wild animals by circuses is not possible in accordance with animal welfare requirements and that previous measures such as the Circus Register Regulation have brought no significant improvements, the BMEL will examine further options including a ban on certain wild animals in circuses.

6. Further amendments to the Animal Welfare Act

Beyond this, further amendments to the Animal Welfare Act are planned:

  • The importation of vertebrates for the purpose of sale in Germany requires permission from the authorities since August 2014. This ensures that all persons handling the animals are equipped with the necessary expertise and that the requisite conditions are in place so that the animals are exposed to as little distress as possible. This should also put a stop to the unscrupulous trafficking of puppies.
  • With the sale of household pets, prospective owners have to be given written information about the animal’s main needs and requirements since August 2014.
  • Commercial dog training also requires permission since August 2014 in order to ensure compliance with minimum quality standards in the interests of the animals and animal welfare.
  • Offering animals as prizes in raffles or competitions will be banned so as to prevent such animals from falling into inexperienced hands.
  • Zoophilia will likewise be banned on the grounds of animal welfare.
  • Operators of animal expos have to fulfil more stringent requirements in order to obtain permission for holding an animal expo.

Overall, the new Animal Welfare Act brought improvements in many different areas of animal protection and to a range of different species.

Animal welfare labelling

On top of this, the BMEL is also pushing for improvements in animal welfare at the European level. For example, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is promoting the introduction of a European animal welfare label – similar to the "Biosiegel" organic production logo. This will enable consumers to easily recognise food that has been produced in compliance with extremely high animal welfare requirements. The BMEL is pressing for the EU to act together on this issue.

Further measures for improving animal welfare

The BMEL's strategy for improving animal welfare also includes further measures such as the laying down of requirements for the keeping of rabbits for profit-making purposes. The Animal Welfare - Farm Animal Husbandry Ordinance was expanded to this end and specific provisions for rabbit breeding and rabbit fattening for profit-making purposes were included for the first time. The amendment took effect on 11 August 2014.

Improvements in animal welfare will also be applied to slaughtering procedures. The EU Regulation on the protection of animals at the time of killing came into effect on 1 January 2013. Consequently, the national Animal Welfare Slaughter Ordinance needs to be realigned. A respective draft has been submitted to the Bundesrat (Upper House of Parliament).

The so-called mammal report ("Expert report on the minimum requirements for the keeping of mammals") describes the minimum requirements for the keeping of mammals, especially in zoos but also in private households. On 7 May 2014 the members of the working group for the revision of the mammal report handed the expert report over to Dr. Maria Flachsbarth, the Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture. The mammal report is not only an update of the previous expert report from 1996 but also a complete revision. For the first time the general requirements for the keeping, care and management of animals are formulated in a separate chapter.

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