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Food Safety

EU Reference Centres for animal welfare

About European Union Reference Centres

Reference Centres aim at improving the enforcement of the legislation on animal welfare, which is one of the Commission's priorities.

They provide technical support and coordinated assistance to EU Member States in carrying out official controls in the field of animal welfare. This in particular by providing scientific and technical expertise, carrying out studies and developing methods for improving and assessing the welfare level of animals. In addition, they contribute to the dissemination of good practices on animal welfare in the EU.

To ensure knowledge transfer and innovative strategies, the centres are also in charge of disseminating research findings and conducting training courses for the staff of EU countries' competent authorities and experts from non-EU countries.

Articles 95 and 96 of the Official Controls Regulation establish the process of designation, the responsibilities and the tasks of the EU reference centres for animal welfare. The Official Controls Regulation, adopted in March 2017, has established harmonised EU rules to prevent, eliminate or reduce the level of risk to humans, animals and plants, along the agri-food chain. Official controls, undertaken by competent authorities in each Member States, serve to check whether these rules are correctly implemented.

Welfare of pigs

In March 2018, the Commission designated a first EU Reference Centre for animal welfare focusing on pigs (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2018/329). This centre aims at improving the enforcement of the EU legislation on pigs, including their transport and killing operations.

The centre EURCAW-Pigs, which started operating on 1 October 2018, is constituted of a consortium formed by the Wageningen Livestock Research (the Netherlands), the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (Germany) and the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University (Denmark).

The work programme establishes the specific activities of the centre and can be found, together with factsheets, review documents, and information on meetings on the centre's website.

Welfare of poultry and other small farmed animals

In October 2019, the Commission designated a second EU Reference Centre for animal welfare, dedicated to the welfare of poultry and other small farmed animals (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/1685). This centre aims at improving the enforcement of EU legislation applicable to those animals, such as laying hens, chickens for meat production , rabbits and other small farmed animals, including their transport and killing operations.

The centre, which started operating on 1 February 2020, is constituted of a consortium formed by the Agence Nationale de Sécurité Sanitaire de l'Alimentation, de l'Environnement et du Travail (France), the Institut de Recerca I Tecnologia Agroalimentàries (Spain), Aarhus Universitet – Institut for Husdyrvidenskab (Denmark) and Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Lombardia e dell'Emilia Romagna (Italy).

The work programme, which establishes the center's specific activities, can be found on its website, which also offers scientific information and support for questions on the implementation of corresponding legislation.

Welfare of ruminants and equines

In May 2021, the Commission designated a third EU Reference Centre for animal welfare focusing on the welfare of ruminants and equines (Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2021/755).

The tasks of this centre include supporting the Commission and the Member States in the application of animal welfare requirements for ruminants and equines, carrying out scientific and technical studies, as well as conducting training courses and disseminating research findings and information on technical innovations.

The centre is constituted of a consortium led by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Swedish Centre for Animal Welfare (Sweden), and also composed of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Austria), the Ellinikos Georgikos Organismos-Dimitra/Veterinary Research Institute (Greece), the National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (France), the University College Dublin (Ireland) and the Instituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell'Abruzzo e del Molise "G. Caporale" (Italy).

The website of EURCAW Ruminants & Equines was launched in October 2022.

Welfare of aquatic animals

In January 2024 , the Commission designated a fourth EU Reference Centre for animal welfare focusing on the welfare of aquatic animals (Commission Implementing Decision 2024/266).

Improving the welfare of aquatic animals, particularly in farms, during transport and at the time of killing, is an important part of the Commission's animal welfare agenda. The designation of the Centre on aquatic animals is a very important step to fulfil the gaps in scientific and technical knowledge regarding aquatic animals.

The new EU Reference Centre will contribute to ensuring that EU rules in this area are respected. The Centre, among the tasks, has the responsibility of supporting horizontal activities of the Commission and of the Member States in meeting welfare requirements for aquatic animals. It will also help in developing animal-based indicators for a better monitoring of welfare of this category of animals.

The Centre is constituted of a Consortium led by the University of Crete (Greece) and also composed of the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Parasitology (Czechia) and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain).

The Work programme and the Centre's website will be published as soon as available.