Farmers who mistreat animals 'should take hit in CAP payments'

Stock Image
Stock Image

Sophie Kevany

More farmers who mistreat animals should have fines docked from their CAP payments, European officials believe.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has flagged up "significant discrepancies" between rules relating to animal welfare and reality.

A report published today found rules on farm animal welfare in the European Union are routinely flouted, and mistreatments include Irish calf transport irregularities.

This is despite good legislation and policy designed to improve the lives of almost nine billion animals raised and slaughtered in the bloc.

Despite several successful EU welfare actions - such as keeping pregnant sows in group pens not individual stalls, and banning unenriched hen cages - the report catalogues a range of problems. Areas of particular concern include pig-tail docking, long-distance transport and slaughterhouse stunning.

Intensive farms are especially tough places for animals, with economic interests often trumping welfare rules, the report said.

"Our audit and other reports show it's difficult to introduce improvements on intensive farms and enforce laws," said the auditor responsible for the report, Janusz Wojciechowski. "Small farms are easier places to achieve high animal welfare standards."

At a broader level, Mr Wojciechowski said the EU lacks a long-term agricultural outlook. Given the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) current overhaul, due to be completed by 2020 for the 2121-2027 period, the next two years will be pivotal.

Failings in the EU's 'cross- compliance' system - the process that sees fines for welfare failings docked from farmers' CAP payments - also came under the spotlight.

ECA auditors found that poor data and inspection co-ordination often rendered the system impotent. And where fines are applied, they can be ineffective as they do not match "the seriousness of the irregularities".

Asked about the total number of cross-compliance penalty case in Ireland, the Department of Agriculture provided figures that partially covered the year 2017 and show 69 to 79 cases annually for full years to 2013. No context for how Irish figures compare to EU norms was immediately available from either Irish or EU agricultural authorities.

The report 'Animal Welfare in the EU: closing the gap between ambitious goals and practical implementation', is one of about 30 published by the auditors each year.

Irish Independent