More frequent inspections and tougher penalties will be needed to enforce the next EU Animal Welfare Action Plan, says a resolution adopted by the European Parliament last week.
The current 2006-10 plan has worked well, in particular the measures taken to reduce harmful antibiotics in animal feed, but there is still room for improvement, say MEPs.
A high level of animal welfare, from breeding to slaughter, can improve product safety and quality, to the benefit of all EU consumers, argues Parliament, and welfare requirements should be mainstreamed into all relevant EU policies.
The resolution, drafted by Marit Paulsen (Sweden) and approved by show of hands, reviews the European Commission's action plan for animal welfare for 2006-2010 and suggests improvements for the next plan.
First and foremost, Parliament emphasises the need to enforce properly the existing rules, such as the ban on battery cages for hens and the rules on the protection of pigs and the transport of geese and ducks.
Imports to comply with EU standards
EU budget funding is needed to enable the Commission to monitor implementation of the law. MEPs add that animal products imported into the EU, such as meat, must also comply with welfare requirements.
For the future, MEPs call on the EU executive to propose general animal welfare legislation "to achieve a common understanding of the concept of animal welfare, the associated costs and the fundamental conditions applicable".
In addition it proposes laying down a "common basic level of animal welfare" across the EU to ensure fair competition in the single market.
Progress on antibiotics
Parliament welcomes the decline in the use of growth-promoting antibiotics since an EU-wide ban was introduced in 2006 to protect human health.
However, MEPs ask the Commission to investigate the use of animal health products further and to study the growing resistance to antibiotics in animals.
European network for animal welfare
Parliament also backs the idea of a European network for animal welfare, as envisaged in a Commission paper of October 2009.
This could help provide assistance, including training to food chain actors, and facilitate the testing of new techniques.