Speaking up for the EU’s 23 million dairy cows

03 May 2017

On Monday 24th April, the European Parliament Committee on Petitions held a hearing of a petition calling for better protection of the EU’s dairy cows. The petition was signed by Compassion and 17 other animal welfare organisations including Eurogroup for Animals, HSI, Eyes on Animals and OneKind.

Extremely poor welfare conditions

Around 20% of the 1.9 million dairy cows in the UK are zero-grazed - kept indoors the whole year round, with no opportunity to graze on grass or breathe in fresh air.

They are often kept in barren, overcrowded and filthy conditions. The floors are usually hard and uncomfortable with no straw or other bedding, and this can give cows sores and wounds. Many cows suffer from lameness and mastitis.

Dairy cows have been pushed, through genetic selection, to produce ever-increasing amounts of milk. Now, an average dairy cow produces 6,000 - 8,000 litres of milk per year.  Cows driven to such high milk yields are susceptible to a range of health problems.

In 2012 we visited 52 dairy farms in Germany (the EU’s largest milk producer), Denmark and Spain. We found extremely poor welfare and this problem is unlikely to be confined to these countries.

A united plea

The petition calls for the European Parliament to take effective steps to ensure that Article 3 of Council Directive 98/58/EC is fully enforced. This Article requires Member States to: “make provision to ensure that the owners or keepers take all reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of animals under their care and to ensure that those animals are not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury”.

The petition made particular reference to:

  • Minimising lameness and mastitis
  • Minimising injuries, lesions and swellings
  • Cleanliness of cows and housing
  • The need for cows to have access to pasture during the grass-growing season
  • The health and welfare problems arising from breeding for high milk yields
  • The need to bring tethering to an end

Next steps

The petition hearing was positive and the Committee has decided to keep the petition open. This is good news as petitions can be closed if it is deemed that nothing more can be done.

The petition will be reviewed later this year, after the findings of a dairy welfare audit have been discussed by the Commission and the Member States in October.

In the meantime we will continue to work hard informing and engaging with MEPs, to gain further support and momentum whilst the petition remains open.

You can read more about dairy cows and their welfare here.


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