EUROPE – The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has launched a period of public consultation on the proposed draft methodology for animal welfare under the Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims to make agriculture practices in Europe more sustainable, through an integrated food policy that covers the full supply chain

As part of the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Commission is revising animal welfare legislation, including animal transport and the slaughter of animals.

The strategy document has stated that the purpose of this is “to align it with the latest scientific evidence, broaden its scope, make it easier to enforce and ultimately ensure a higher level of animal welfare”.

According to the strategy, “better animal welfare improves animal health and food quality, reduces the need for medication and can help preserve biodiversity”.

The move by the EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) followed a request by the European Commission on what will be a “key component” of the strategy.

The draft guidance methodology will be used for a series of scientific opinions on the welfare of farm animals during transportation.

The EFSA also said that the opinions will cover the on-farm welfare of “calves, laying hens; broilers; pigs; ducks; geese; quail; and dairy cows”.

The guidance will seek to harmonize the approaches used to assess animal welfare across different system and enterprise types, with both the on-farm and transport elements of welfare to be evaluated.

“The methodological guidance will define harmonized methods and strategies to be applied consistently across the opinions,” the group stated.

The draft lists and describes the welfare consequences of husbandry conditions that are known to affect animals.

The EFSA document includes a new methodology for assessing the welfare of animals by comparing their experience on a farm to “natural” conditions where they would have unlimited space.

The EFSA has now opened the “open consultation” and opinions and observations on the draft guidance methodology can be made to the authority until March 28, 2022, with the opinions to be published between June 2022 and March 2023.

Animal welfare linked to food safety

The safety of the food chain is directly connected to the welfare of animals, particularly those farmed for food production, due to the close links between animal welfare, animal health and food-borne diseases.

Stress factors and poor welfare can lead to increased susceptibility to transmissible diseases among animals.

Good animal welfare practices not only reduce unnecessary suffering but also help to make animals healthier.

In addition, the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 included an explicit recognition that animals are sentient beings and that the EU and its Member States bear an ethical responsibility to prevent maltreatment, pain and suffering.

The agency’s scientific assessments help risk managers identify methods to reduce unnecessary pain, distress and suffering for animals and to improve welfare wherever possible. EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare assesses factors such as housing and management, transport and slaughter of farmed animals such as pigs, sheep, poultry, cattle and fish.

Prior to the development of this guidance in 2011, there had been no specific international guidelines on risk assessment for animal welfare.

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