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Food Safety

Animal welfare

Animal welfare proposals and Communication adopted by the Commission on 7 December 2023

On the 7 December 2023, the Commission proposed an overhaul of EU rules for the protection of animals in transport and new rules on the welfare and traceability of dogs and cats. It also replied to the European Citizens' Initiative 'Fur Free Europe'.

Improved rules on the transport of animals

The current EU rules for animals in transport are 20 years old and no longer respond to modern realities, latest scientific advice, sustainability goals or societal demands. The proposed measures will improve the wellbeing of the 1.6 billion animals transported in and from the EU each year. The proposals mainly focuses on 7 specific objectives: reduce travel times, increase minimum space allowances, reinforce rules for the transport in extreme temperatures, address the specific needs of vulnerable animals, improve enforcement through digitalisation, improve conditions of transport of animals exported from the EU, and expand EU rules for the transport of dogs and cats.

Better welfare and traceability of dogs and cats

Around 44% of households in the EU have a pet animal and the trade in dogs and cats has grown considerably in recent years, including through online sales. Unfortunately, animal welfare standards vary across Member States and there is evidence of suboptimal welfare conditions in the supply of dogs and cats in the Union, as well as evidence of illegal trade in these animals.

The proposal aims to establish uniform EU rules for the welfare of dogs and cats that are bred or kept in breeding establishments, in pet shops and in shelters. For the first time, minimum standards will apply for the housing, care and handling of these animals across the EU. It also introduces strict traceability requirements and possibility for automated checks when supplying of dogs and cats takes place through online means.

Commission's reply to the ECI 'Fur Free Europe'

The European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) 'Fur Free Europe' requests the Commission to propose a ban on the farming of fur animals in the EU and placing on the EU market of farmed fur and fur products. In its reply, the Commission indicated that it has sent a mandate to EFSA to assess the welfare problems encountered by these animals, and that the Commission would carry out an assessment following this EFSA opinion and communicate on its decision by March 2026.

Eurobarometer: Attitudes of Europeans towards animal welfare

In 2023, 84% of Europeans believe that the welfare of farmed animals should be better protected in their country than it is now. A similar number (83%) support limiting the transport time of animals. Almost three quarters of respondents (74%) support better protection of the welfare of pet animals in their country and 90% of Europeans consider that farming and breeding practices should meet basic ethical requirements.

Eurobarometer, Press release


With the support and close co-operation of the EU countries, the European Commission has been promoting animal welfare for over 40 years gradually improving the lives of farm animals.

An important step in 1998 was Council Directive 98/58/EC on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes which gave general rules for the protection of animals of all species kept for the production of food, wool, skin or fur or for other farming purposes, including fish, reptiles or amphibians.

These rules are based on the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming, incorporated into the EU animal welfare acquis by Council Decision 78/923/EEC, and they reflect the so-called 'Five Freedoms':

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress

When the Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009 it amended the 'Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union' (TFEU) and introduced the recognition that animals are sentient beings. Article 13 of Title II states that:

"In formulating and implementing the Union's agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the EU countries relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage."

National governments may adopt more stringent rules provided they are compatible with the provisions of the Treaty but Community legislation concerning the welfare conditions of farm animals lays down minimum standards.


Further information