Compassion in World Farming has submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman about the European Commission's failure to take animal welfare into account when developing a new Regulation on fish.
This is the first time Compassion has made a complaint to the European Ombudsman with regard to the Commission's position on animal welfare.
Compassion argues that the Commission has neglected to properly consider the welfare of farmed fish in its proposed Regulation on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
Article 13 of the Treaty requires the EU, when formulating its policies on agriculture and fisheries, to "pay full regard to the welfare requirements" of animals including fish. Fish were included in this provision after scientific research established that they are able to experience pain and fear and have the capacity to suffer.
The proposed Regulation makes it clear that one of the objectives of the CFP is to promote the development of fish farming. Despite this, it contains no substantive provisions that address the welfare of farmed fish.
Peter Stevenson, Compassion's Chief Policy Advisor, says:
Most of Europe's fish farming is highly intensive. Fish farming is responsible for very considerable animal suffering. All too often the fish are kept in overcrowded tanks or cages.
The fish are vulnerable to a range of health problems including malformations such as spinal, head and jaw deformities and injuries to their fins, scales and eyes.
Moreover, rearing salmon in cages constrains their natural swimming behaviour as it deprives them of swimming the great distances that are the norm for wild salmon at sea.
It is essential that measures are put in place by the Commission to safeguard fish welfare before there is any further expansion of EU fish farming.
Ignoring its own treaty
The Commission's proposed reform of the Common Fisheries Policy ignores the Treaty. It fails to pay "full regard" to fish welfare - indeed it pays almost no meaningful regard to their welfare.
The Commission has been misleading in handling Compassion's concerns claiming there is insufficient scientific evidence on which to base legislative proposals for many species of farmed fish. However, in 2008 the European Food Safety Authority produced Scientific Reports on the welfare of six of the main fish species farmed in the EU and in 2009 it produced Scientific Opinions on the welfare at slaughter of eight farmed fish species.
The Commission has also claimed that the welfare of farmed fish is covered by existing EU legislation on animal welfare. This is not an accurate account of the position. The welfare of farmed fish is dealt with only in a very superficial manner in existing EU legislation.