Do EU Organic Regulations Promote Better Animal Welfare?

Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash

By Eugénie Duval, Essex Law School

In the European Union (EU), the general concept of animal welfare is provided by the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU which considers animals as “sentient beings”. Briefly, animal welfare refers to the state of an animal that is healthy (both physically and emotionally) and has the ability to satisfy its behavioural needs. EU farm animal welfare legislation includes several acts laying down minimum standards for the protection of farm animals. However, these minimum standards fail to guarantee the welfare of farm animals. In contrast, the EU Organic Regulation 2018/848 and the Implementing Regulation 2020/464 provide detailed rules aiming to promote “high animal welfare standards”.

Adopted in 1991, the EU Organic Regulation was most recently revised in 2018, with the changes of this revision entering into force in 2022. One of the most significant updates is the expansion of the scope of the Organic Regulation (i.e., additional species and stages of production). Together with Benjamin Lecorps (Bristol Veterinary School), I have been invited by Alice Di Concetto (The European Institute for Animal Law & Policy) to contribute to a research note on the EU Organic regulations and their impact on animal welfare. This research note draws from my previous work on EU Organic regulations, where I first explored, together with two animal welfare scientists, how these regulations affect dairy cattle welfare[1] as well as other species farmed in the EU.[2]

Animal welfare standards in EU Organic regulations represent a significant improvement compared to the minimum standards. EU Organic regulations aim to provide animals with better protection from negative experiences, limiting pain or suffering induced by routing management practices.

For example, the use of cages and the practice of force-feeding (e.g., used for the production of foie gras) are prohibited in organic systems. Additional requirements aim to ensure animals’ needs are met, beyond the animals’ interest not to suffer. Organic farmers are required to provide their animals with the ability to express natural behaviours or access important resources (e.g., mandatory outdoor access; lower densities).

However, some challenges remain and animals in certified organic production still stand to benefit from further improvements yet to be implemented. On a number of aspects, EU Organic regulations provide exceptions (e.g., physical mutilations; tethering), use vague language or remain silent.

One of the main limitations  relates to the lack of emphasis by EU Organic regulations on the welfare of animals during transport. Apart from minor provisions, animals in organic agriculture are subjected to the same rules in the Transport Regulation that apply to non-organically produced animals. However, these rules are limited and there is evidence that they do not guarantee a good level of animal welfare during transport and need to be improved.[3]

If you are interested in knowing more about this research note, you can download it directly from our blog below:

[1] Eugénie Duval, Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk, Benjamin Lecorps, ‘Organic dairy cattle: Do European Union regulations promote animal welfare?’, Animals, 2020, 10, 1786.

[2] Eugénie Duval, “Le droit de l’Union relatif à l’agriculture biologique : la promotion d’un meilleur bien-être des animaux d’élevage ?”, in Isabelle Michallet (dir.), Bien-être et normes environnementales, Mare et Martin, 2022

[3] I am currently writing a paper comparing live animal transportation regulations in several jurisdictions, highlighting animal welfare challenges and future directions.

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