Eurogroup for Animals has been the leading voice for animal welfare in the European Union for many years. Based in Brussels, Eurogroup has 48 member organisations, including Compassion, which has a long history of membership and active participation. It’s an honour to serve on Eurogroup’s Board. Reineke Hameleers’s appointment as Director in 2013 signalled a new era for the organisation.
Philip: What led you to Eurogroup and how do you see the future for Europe’s animals?
Reineke: I have always been intrigued by the way humans coexist and interact with other animals. This was the focus of my master’s thesis at Maastricht University. It’s the reason why I want to work in animal welfare. The human/animal relationship has far reaching consequences economically, ethically and socially. It became clear to me during my work, first as a volunteer and then as a regional director of the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals, that one cannot protect animals without protecting people as well. The massive problems we face and the instrumental way animals are treated are disheartening. But it’s my passion and faith in the European project that keeps me going. The EU is not only of significance to Europeans but also to our relationship with billions of animals. We need Europe to improve animal welfare and Eurogroup for Animals has a pivotal role to play in this important development.
Philip: Which specific challenges does Europe face to achieving positive and meaningful change for animals?
Reineke: The EU has to show that it’s relevant to the lives of ordinary Europeans. It’s not only about markets and money but also about values and ideals. The Amsterdam and Lisbon treaties demonstrated the EU cared about animal welfare. They recognised animals as sentient beings. Eurogroup for Animals helps the EU to see that it can really contribute to the proliferation and protection of these values. Seven out of ten Europeans polled believed animal welfare should be improved, no matter how much it cost. Animal welfare is intrinsically connected to other values like our own wellbeing, our health, protection of the environment and a sustainable economy. An appalling example is how Europe treats its pigs, the majority are still being castrated, tails are being docked routinely and outdoor access or enrichment of housing are rare. This situation stands far from the sentience principle in the Treaty and is representative for a lot of other farmed animals.
In the new political term Eurogroup for Animals will campaign actively for better pig welfare among other species. Another key challenge is the transportation of livestock. We count on the new Commission to respond to the call of many citizens to revise the current regulation on transportation and introduce a maximum transport duration of 8 hours for mammals and 4 hours for poultry. It’s vital to invest in local sustainable food chains. Moreover, there are a lot of ‘forgotten’ species for which no specific regulation exists at all, like rabbits, dairy cows and equines. And then we haven’t spoken about the challenges for cats and dogs, wild animals and animals used in testing and research. I’m afraid my contribution to this blog is too short to cover all the challenges to implement that very important recognition of animal sentience in EU law and reality.
Philip: What are the lessons you’ve learned from Eurogroup’s recent Vote for Animals campaign?
Reineke: In this first EU-wide election campaign to advance animal welfare, we gathered more than 200 signed pledges from candidates in 28 members states. The pledges highlighted six important animal welfare goals: to end long-distance transportation; reduce animals used for testing and research purposes; ban the cloning of animals; introduce mandatory identification and registration of pets; reduce the keeping of exotic animals; and ensure that animal welfare standards will not be threatened by trade negotiations. It wasn’t an easy task to organise but thanks to our hard working team we succeeded in putting animal welfare at the heart of the election campaign. More than 35% of the pledge signers are now elected as MEPs. Of course, the next step is holding them to account for the animal welfare promises they made, which is why our follow-up campaign #act4animals is already underway.
We provide the secretariat for the Intergroup for Animal Welfare and Conservation. We are working hard to rebuild it into one of the most successful Intergroups in the EP. Intergroups provide a cross-political platform for MEPs to debate and join forces. More than 70 MEPs from 22 Member States have joined and a new strategy with concrete goals was adopted. We recently elected a very committed new President from Poland, Janusz Wojciechowski.
Philip:Farmageddon exposes the hidden cost of cheap meat and calls for a reordering of food systems to value quality and availability. The EU has made some progress here but there’s still so much more to do. Where do we go from here?
Reineke: Farmageddon opened the eyes of decision makers here! But to talk seriously in Brussels about sustainable food requires courage. Many people are still not very comfortable with facing the threats posed by factory farming. This maybe why the long-awaited EU sustainable food communication is stalled. The current Common Agriculture Policy stands far from supporting sustainable practices, as it maintains an unhealthy farming industry. Eurogroup will push the European Commission to put forward an EU sustainable food policy. Our goal is to integrate it into the next revision of the CAP. A sustainable food chain goes beyond ethical considerations. It’s all about saving our planet for future generations and all species!
Philip: What do you say to people who say they’ve lost confidence in the EU? Can the 28 member states, in all their diversity, really make a difference for animals?
Reineke: The plight of Europe’s animals is a cross-border topic. It can’t be improved only at the level of the Member States. Billions of animals are bred, reared, traded, sold, transported, and killed in many different countries. Their welfare is intrinsically linked to their well-being, our own health, consumer interests, and the economy. So I would call on people who care for animals to urge your government to convince the European Commission to put animal welfare higher on the EU agenda.
Animal welfare is not a luxury for when we’ve fixed the economy. Euro-scepticism threatens animal welfare. If a total review of the EU agenda leads to the transfer of many of the EU competences back to the member states, we will be in trouble. We will have to fight 28 national animal welfare battles instead of one international campaign. Yes, progress in some countries may quicken but overall in Europe animal welfare will become even less important than it is now. I’m convinced that in most European countries the lives of many animals may change for the worse and that the future of potential and urgent improvements would be lost.