How should animal-lovers, vegetarians and vegans vote in the EU referendum?

What as the EU ever done for our animals?

Monday, 13th June 2016, 11:07 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 5:11 pm
Animals and the EU.

While the economy, immigration and sovereignty take centre stage in the referendum debate, here's a look at EU issues relevant to those concerned about animals and their welfare:

Ban on cosmetics tested on animals

"Animal suffering just for cosmetics reasons" has been outlawed in all EU member states since 2013, blocking companies testing toiletries and make-up on animals from a market of 500 million people across 28 countries.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It seems unlikely the UK would back out of the ban Britain if it voted to leave the EU, but this level of multi-national cooperation is an example of how the EU can use its combined might to improve animal welfare.

"Five Freedoms" for farmed animals

Promoting and protecting the welfare of farm animals has steadily grown over the EU in the past four decades, particularly in the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes.

This enshrines "Five Freedoms" for the protection of animals kept for the production of food, wool, skin or fur, or for other farming purposes, including fish, reptiles and amphibians.

The Five Freedoms are:

:: Freedom from hunger and thirst

:: Freedom from discomfort

:: Freedom from pain, injury and disease

:: Freedom to express normal behaviour

:: Freedom from fear and distress

While vegetarians are against animal slaughter completely, and vegans rule out animal farming entirely, many welcome improvements in animal welfare as a positive step forward - as do those who eat meat, but want to see suffering reduced.

Farming subsidies and blood sports

One of the unfortunate quirks of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy for animal rights campaigners is the fact that those managing areas for blood sports such as grouse shooting, salmon fishing and deer stalking are entitled to claim EU farming subsidies.

With concerns over animal suffering, the impact on wildlife, and alleged illegal animal poisonings and trappings linked to shooting estates, this is one of the more unpopular aspects of EU policy for those concerned about animal welfare.

Battery hens, crates and cages

While many are still unhappy with the conditions in which farmed animals are kept, the EU has introduced bans on veal crates (2007), battery cages (2012) and sow stalls (2013).

Again, it seems unlikely the UK would automatically rescind these rules in a Brexit scenario, but it is another example of nations standing in solidarity to change farming practices across all member states.

'Sentient beings'

When the Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009 it introduced the recognition that animals are sentient beings.

Article 13 of Title II states that the EU and its member states "since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals".

However, it does go on to say this must respect "legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the member states relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage," leaving room for practices which some may find as causing suffering to farmed animals.

Taking your pets to other EU countries

The EU has harmonised rules on travelling with pets, making it easier for its citizens to move freely with their companion animals with the Union.

Dogs, cats and ferrets are susceptible to rabies, but proof of vaccination against the disease in a pet passport or animal health certificate is all they need to travel across EU borders, with certain exceptions. The rules apply to non-commercial movement only, not for those importing and exporting pets for sale.

Non-EU countries have stricter rules for bringing pets into EU member states, so the UK could potentially lose this benefit if it left the Union.


One of the more controversial aspects of EU activities, the Common Fisheries Policy is often blamed for mismanaging Europe’s highly productive seas and "giving away our fish”.

However, Friends of the Earth (FOE) has reported that since EU policy was reformed in 2002, the health of many fish populations has improved - with North Sea cod, once synonymous with over-fishing, now recovering strongly.

The EU is now phasing out the discarding of unwanted fish, a practice which was very publicly maligned in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's campaign and television programmes, and setting quotas more in line with scientific advice.

FOE also said "fencing out foreign fishermen" may prove difficult if the UK left the EU, with preventing foreign boats fishing its waters requiring huge investment in monitoring and control.

This sort of move would also mean British boats could no longer fish in the waters of other European nations (20% of the fish caught by the UK fleet is landed elsewhere in the EU).

The FOE reports "the history of the EU’s fishing policy is one of criticism and improvement. It is therefore unclear why the UK would want to abandon ship at this point."