Editor’s pickAnimal Welfare as a Guarantee of Safety and Quality of EU Pork, Beef and Their Products


The welfare of animals for slaughter is a very important and popular issue in countries of the Community. It refers to the health, mental well-being and free expression of natural behaviour of animals. It is ensured when they are physically and mentally healthy. With a view to ensuring the appropriate welfare conditions as well as to provide high-quality EU beef, pork and their products, Member States of the European Union implement modern standards of animal welfare.

It is worth recalling that in accordance with the 5 basic requirements of welfare animals during their lifetime must be free from hunger and thirst, free from physical discomfort, free from pain, injuries and diseases, free from fear and stress and capable of natural behaviour. The welfare of animals for slaughter is also an important element of the safety of the food chain of animals kept for food production. Stress factors and low level of welfare may lead to increased susceptibility of cows and pigs to diseases and may also affect the quality of meat. Therefore taking due care of animal welfare is one of the most important priorities for EU producers of beef and pork.

The strategy of the European Union (EU) concerning the protection of animals and their welfare is to improve standards of animal welfare and also provides adequate legislation in respect of their application and enforcement in all EU countries. The general rules for the activities of the Member States in respect of cross-compliance of welfare of animals are specified in the document entitled “Communication on the European Union strategy for animal protection and welfare for 2012-2015”[1].

EU countries are implementing modern standards of animal welfare

The provisions of the EU lay down in great detail the criteria for animal welfare in conditions of farming and transport of animals[2] and stunning and slaughter[3].  What is more, detailed directives include the protection of individual animal categories[4]. These rules govern all issues concerning inter alia animal welfare, killing, methods of stunning and restraining animals as well as the facilities and equipment used for slaughter, and ensure adequate legislation on their application and enforcement in all EU countries.

Modern standards of animal welfare introduced by EU producers of the meat sector provide animals with, inter alia, freedom of movement with the possibility to stand up, lay down and access to feed, regardless of the type of maintenance system. They also provide the appropriate microclimate of livestock housing, consistent with the physiological needs of animals.  It also takes account of keeping relevant parameters – temperature and humidity, lighting, concentration of gases, dust and dirt. The next basic standard ensuring animal welfare in the EU is feeding of cows and pigs with balanced feed, appropriate for the species and age, compatible with the needs of the animals and ensuring access to adequate quantities of fresh water.

With a view of proper keeping of animals slaughtered in a slaughterhouse in order to reduce unnecessary pain and distress and suffering, EU producers of the meat sector provide all animals brought to slaughterhouses and staying there for the so-called pre-slaughter rest with protection and physical comfort, appropriate to the needs of the given species and with microclimate parameters compliant with the standards currently in force in the EU. Livestock warehouses are constructed so as to minimise the risk of injury to animals and the occurrence of sudden noise that may alarm the animals. An important element of the control of proper handling of animals within the Community is the obligation to appoint an employee responsible for animal welfare. Such person has specialist knowledge of the physiology and behaviour of animals and knows the operating procedures with regard to the operation of slaughterhouses. Knowledge of these rules is necessary for the proper assessment of the criteria for welfare.

As a key element for animal health and food safety, animal welfare in the countries of the Community is a component of the herd health monitoring system. In EU cattle and swine farming routine visits are conducted in the course of which the veterinarian monitors the welfare of the animals and make notes of their parameters. What is more, within the EU conducting veterinary and zootechnical procedures is allowed only by persons with appropriate qualifications and experience. This allows to minimise the suffering of the animals. Multidimensional attention to animal welfare in the EU countries gives a guarantee for food safety.

Public health, animal health and their welfare are closely related. Taking the necessary care for the welfare of cows and pigs is one of the most important priorities for EU producers of beef and pork and it contributes to improving the quality of the meat. Respecting animal rights at all stages of farming leads to the creation of a unique, high-quality product.

[1] The Communication of the Committee of the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee on the EU strategy for the protection and welfare of animals for the years 2012 to 2015. Brussels 15.02.2012, 1-14.

[2] Council Regulation (EC) No. 1/2005 of 22 December 2004 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations and amending Directives 64/432/EEC and 93/119/EC and Regulation (EC) No. 1255/97. (OJ L 003, 05/01/2005, p. 1)

[3] Council Regulation (EC) No. 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals during their killing. OJ  of the EU 18.11.2009 L. 303 p. 1.

[4] Council Directive 2008/120/EC of 18 December 2008 laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs. OJ of the EU 15.2.2009 L. 47, p. 5.