Is the EU sacrificing animal welfare to tackle the cost of living?

Long-awaited EU animal welfare proposals are falling through without an official explanation. Some reports suspect that economic objectives are at play.


A raft of highly-anticipated EU animal welfare proposals are overdue, and it seems that the European Commission will fall short on its commitments for the long-promised legislative reforms.

Brussels appears to be handling the matter discreetly behind closed doors, following leaks that revealed the proposals could be scrapped in an effort to tackle the high food prices and inflation gripping the continent.

Animal welfare organisations have accused policy makers of a U-turn and seem to be at loss in understanding what is happening after the Commission committed to ‘End the Cage Age’ years ago.

The End the Cage Age was a citizens’ initiative, signed by almost 1.4 million people in 2020.

It prompted the Commission to commit to proposing legislation to phase out the use of cage systems for animals such as hens, rabbits and ducks by the end of 2023.

The legislative framework was also meant to include a stop to the practice of slaughtering day-old chicks, and the sale and production of fur, as well as shortening the transport of live animals.

The deafening silence of the European Commission

As the moment of truth approached, news reports began to cast doubts about the fate of the legislation.

The topic was also missing from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s State of The Union speech, which was seen as an opportunity for the president to sum up what her administration had left to do before the European elections next year.

This didn’t escape the attention of animal welfare NGOs.

Euronews reached out to the European Commission but received no response as of this article’s publication.

Finally, at a hearing in the European Parliament on Tuesday, European Commission Executive Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, nominated to oversee the European Green Deal, raised many eyebrows when he couldn’t commit to a deadline of the animal welfare proposals in question.

The vice-president, however, kept repeating that the animal welfare proposals remain a priority for the upcoming months.

The following day, on World Animal Day, Vice-President Šefčovič wrote to MEPs indicating that the European Commission will present its proposal to protect animals while they are transported, in December 2023.

He did not commit to any deadline concerning the rest of the animal welfare issues, however, noting that the Commission will continue working on the remaining proposals.

Animal welfare organisations, including FOUR PAWS International and Compassion in World Farming, immediately reacted saying that the European Commission is not delivering what it had promised.

Compassion in World Farming said that the “Commission slaps democracy in the face, and signals GAME OVER for EU animal welfare revolution”.

“The Commission’s U-turn regarding the much-touted animal welfare reform is a failure for democracy and the European project,“ said Olga Kikou, European Affairs Manager at Compassion in World Farming.

Could inflation be the reason for abandoning animal welfare?

The European Commission has yet to communicate any clear reasons why it has abandoned the proposals, but media reports suggest that there are fears that the animal welfare amendments could fuel food inflation further.


The Financial Times (FT) reported on a draft impact assessment by the Commission, that showed how farmers’ costs could surge by an average of 15%, potentially leading to higher consumer prices and an increase in imports.

Improving the housing of broiler chickens could add one cent to the price of an egg, according to the draft assessment.

In its report, the FT asked the EU farmer’s group Copa-Cogeca for its opinion on the proposals, which said it was in favour of many of the suggested changes as long as they came with financial aid and as long as imported meat had the same standards as that in Europe.

Despite these fears, while still high, food inflation has actually started slowing down in recent months, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office.

Furthermore, the proposals would take years to be signed into the statute books and put into practice, making the current food inflation an even less significant factor.


FOUR PAWS’s director of European policy, Joe Moran, told Euronews that the proposals remain proposals until they are adopted.

“We’re looking at 2028, 2027, then there would have to be an implementation period before they actually apply,” he said.

The transition periods for such measures often take 10 to 15 years.

“So to not go ahead with something now because of costs that could be spread over 20 years would, in my view, be a bit like someone cancelling their summer holiday in 10 years time because they’ve looked online and it’s raining at their destination today,” Moran said.” It literally doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s bonkers.”

The director shared his suspicion that scrapping the plans may be “all about optics” in the light of the European Commission’s efforts to secure the new EU-Mercosur trade deal involving Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, before the end of this year.


The impact of the planned animal welfare proposals to international trade relations

In April, 2023 a leaked impact assessment showed that the trading partners most affected by the higher standards were expected to be Brazil and Thailand in the case of poultry meat, and Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in the case of beef.

Moran said the European Commission thinks it would be “incredibly dangerous” for the legislative package to come to light during the course of the talks, as it could jeopardise a deal if South American imports were required to meet the same high standards.

“They see this as a kind of straw that might break the proverbial camel’s back,” he said.

Moran added that to his knowledge, the originally planned proposals were ready to move to the inter-service consultation stage, to then be ultimately published within weeks. He said he cannot understand why, at this stage, they cannot be released to the public.

“A proposal is only a proposal. […] We’re asking them simply to put these texts in the public domain in front of MEPs, in front of member states,” said Moran. “They could then be amended. They can be changed. But at least discussions like this should happen in daylight in a democracy. I don’t believe that they should be happening behind closed doors.“


What’s at stake?

The director called attention to the pressing issues that the proposals were supposed to address, such as ending piglet castration, preventing the separation of calves from their mothers right after birth, and stopping chickens from growing at such rates that essentially they can’t stand up because they can’t their legs can’t support their own weight.

The European Food Safety Authority notes that farmed animals’ welfare is directly connected to the safety of the food chain, and that the relationship between animal welfare, animal health, and food-borne diseases is tight, with stress factors and poor welfare leading to increased susceptibility to transmissible diseases among animals.

It’s worth remembering that there is no serious concern about food safety in the European Union as the bloc has the highest standards of animal welfare in the world already.

While acknowledging that the EU is a leader in many respects, Moran emphasised that other parts of the world better regulate certain aspects of animal welfare, such as banning live exports, even if their overall welfare regulation pales in comparison to Europe’s.

“If we want the EU to continue to be the world’s leader in animal welfare, we need these proposals now,” he said.

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The Ukraine war and extreme heat are threatening global food security

Russia’s partial blocade of Ukrainian grain exports as well as extreme weather events have fuelled fears about global food supplies, but things may not be as bad as they seem, according to the OECD.

The global grain export outlook had to be amended after major exporter Ukraine once again began to face Russian military threat on its shipments on the Black Sea. The situation has been aggravated by extreme heat decimating the produce of the world’s largest exporters in Asia, and India announcing a partial ban on its rice exports.


This perfect storm of diminishing grain supplies and heat waves has inflamed fears that global food security could be in dire straits. But are these concerns well-founded?

Why has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine been so dangerous for food supplies?

Since Moscow pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July 2023, there’s been no guarantee of safe passage for tens of millions of tonnes of produce from Ukraine.

Russia has blockaded the country’s Black Sea ports, and ships that carry grain are under the constant threat of attack by its forces.

Turkey and the UN are currently in discussions with Moscow to restore the deal, which would allow Ukrainian grain vessels to pass through unhindered. However, President Vladimir Putin poured cold water on any sense of that happening after talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday, demanding first that the West facilitate Russian agricultural exports.

Both Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s key agricultural producers and major suppliers of grains such as wheat, maize, and oilseeds such as rapeseed and sunflower seed, many of which developing African nations rely on.

According to the UN, while the Black Sea Grain Initiative was in place, low and middle-income countries collectively received 57% of the grain leaving those ports.

The World Food Programme, which provides food assistance worldwide, got half of its wheat supply from Ukrainian export last year and more than three quarters this year, which was sent to countries with low food security such as Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Other African countries also import a large proportion of their cereals through the Black Sea region.

The African Development Bank (ADB) estimates that 15 out of 54 African nations buy more than half their wheat from either Ukraine or Russia.

Many of these countries face high inflation and growing difficulties in feeding their populations, and the strengthening dollar, a reaction to tense and uncertain geopolitics, has further escalated the problem.

“Some of these countries have been victims of a triple shock,” said Marion Jansen, director for trade and agriculture at the OECD. “Originally, the dollar price of grains went up. On top of that, the dollar became more expensive. And on top of that, those countries were suffering from supply chain shocks in logistics.”


Extreme heat takes a toll on crops across Asia

It’s not just the war that is threatening global food security, but the weather too. Both rice and wheat supplies are now facing alarming shortages.

China’s grain production has suffered significantly from the extreme heat, mainly due to the intensification of El Niño. The climatic phenomenon, which triggers changes in temperature and rainfall, has impacted grain produce across Asia.

Forecasts for lower rainfall in September are further threatening to disrupt supplies.

“We are still waiting for the official numbers of these [cereal production in China, ed.] to come out, but these are things that can impact markets,” explained Jansen.

Meanwhile India, which accounts for 40% of global rice exports, has announced an export ban on non-basmati white rice and broken rice, to curb high prices inside the country, essentially halving Indian rice exports.


The lack of rain has also taken a toll on Australia’s wheat output.

“Wheat production is going to be three million (metric) tonnes lower than our initial estimate of 33 million tonnes,” Ole Houe, director of advisory services at agricultural brokerage IKON Commodities, told Reuters. “If the dryness continues in September, we are looking at an even lower crop.”

How much produce is missing from the food market?

With grain exports stalled in Ukraine and the heat wreaking havoc with crop production in Asia, you might be wondering just how much of a shortfall there is.

In July, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization had foreseen record high production: 2,819 million tonnes in 2023, 1.1% higher than in the previous year.

Since then, the latest data from the International Grains Council’s August forecasts has suggested a lower output, but also a strong global production with just below 2,230 million tonnes of produce worldwide.


The report also notes the increasing risks stemming from global supply uncertainty.

The Council doesn’t exclude a price rally in grains and oilseeds due to the situation in Ukraine. The IMF previously estimated a 10-15% rise in grain prices if the Black Sea Grain Initiative is not restored.

However, recent events are unlikely to cause a seismic shift in the global food industry, according to the OECD.

“Now we are seeing a slight downward adjustment because of the weather conditions in places like Canada, Europe, and also China.” said Jansen. “So far we do not have the impression that we expect big shocks in terms of renewed big price increases.”

“Production has adjusted, logistics chains have adjusted and this will continue to happen,“ she explained.

“What is very important in situations like this, is for countries to remain calm and not contribute to nervousness in the market by, for instance, introducing new export restrictions because this could drive prices up again,“ Jansen added.

Restoring Ukrainian exports to their full potential remains crucial, especially seeing as the country foresees a better cereal yield than expected, along with Kazakhstan. But with talks between Moscow and the West stalled, the grain deal’s future remains uncertain.

Nevertheless, overall output can be supported by the winter wheat production in the Americas. The US has a good chance to benefit from above-average precipitation in southern states from November to February: a positive by-product of El Niño.

South American weather is also expected to be crop-friendly for soybeans and corn which will be harvested in early 2024.

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Why is reporting on the climate impact of meat off the menu?

By Nico Muzi, Managing director and co-founder, Madre Brava

Contrary to the popular saying, more bad news about meat production will be good news for people and the planet, Nico Muzi writes.

No news is good news for the meat industry, but it’s terrible news for people and the planet.

Despite the oversized role of livestock production in driving climate change, mainstream media ignores the issue.

A new analysis by Faunalytics for Sentient Media revealed that 93% of climate-related news never mentions meat.

Researchers analysed 1,000 articles in 10 national US media outlets since September 2022 and found that within the very limited coverage that mentions animal agriculture, “much of the reporting covers climate impacts on livestock rather than how meat production is a source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Earlier research by our sustainable food advocacy group also shows that the topic of climate emissions from animal agriculture gets comparatively less media coverage than other climate problems.

Almost 450 out of 91,180 climate articles in top-tier English-language media outlets in the EU, UK and US between 2020 and mid-2022 mention meat or livestock as a source of emissions — 0.5% of overall climate reporting.

This is problematic: media narratives help to set the political agenda and are precursors to political action.

In other words, media coverage of the role of livestock in driving climate change is more likely to create political urgency, policy prioritisation and resource allocation.

Why are climate and environment reporters ignoring meat’s part in climate change?

For some, it’s a question of priorities

At least three main factors contribute to the underreporting of meat’s oversized climate impact by English-language media.

First, a lack of campaigning. Very few civil society groups are campaigning on the link between meat and climate change — compared to the sheer amount of public advocacy around fossil fuels extraction and emissions from cars, trucks, planes and ships.

In part, this corresponds with the minimal climate philanthropy funding going to the food and agriculture sector — 8% of the total known foundation funding dedicated to climate mitigation in 2020.

But it also has to do with a matter of prioritisation. So far, and rightly so, the environmental movement has focused on reducing emissions from the energy systems and transport: two sectors with massive emissions (34% and 15% of total emissions in 2019, respectively) and with technological solutions — solar, wind and electrification of transport — available at scale to decarbonise these industries.

Food is the next frontier in the climate fight: it’s responsible for 37% of global emissions, of which animal agriculture takes the lion’s share.

The sector’s size can be a stumbling stone

When presenting the latest IPCC report, Chairperson Hoesung Lee reminded the world that humanity needs to reduce livestock farming to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

We should now expect the attention of civil society (and climate philanthropists) to turn to the transformation of how and what food we produce to feed a growing population without frying the planet.

This is crucial for creating media attention: as Madre Brava’s media analysis shows, investigations by NGOs and studies by think tanks and universities are the leading generators of climate stories around meat and livestock.

The second factor is corporate capture: the continuous attempts by the meat industry to meddle with science and policymaking.

The global meat industry is a huge sector worth $1.3 trillion (€1.16tn) — three times the economic value of the smartphone industry.

People like meat — and telling them not to eat it can turn them hostile

Borrowing heavily from the playbook of the oil industry, media reporting and exposés have shown that big meat processors and dairy corporations use their abundant financial resources to manipulate the facts and sow doubts about climate science on animal products.

For instance, research led by academics at New York University and published in the journal Climate Change show that the 10 largest animal agriculture companies in the US “have contributed to research that minimizes the link between animal agriculture and climate change.”

In terms of lobbying efforts, the same researchers uncovered that “taken as a share of each company’s total revenue over those time periods, Tyson has spent more than double what Exxon has on political campaigns and 21% more on lobbying.”

Recently, the Dublin Declaration of Scientists on the Role of Livestock, a pro-livestock manifesto by scholars with close ties to the meat industry, also appear to further efforts to create a supportive scientific community around livestock and to downplay the impact of meat on climate change.

Also, many people love meat for its taste and for deeply held cultural reasons, which makes the topic contentious for reporting.

As Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel said when asked about the reasons why animal agriculture gets comparatively less coverage in climate stories than other sources of emissions: “The predominant one is that people like meat and … basically you end up telling people to eat less beef.”

“And that’s a message that people tend to be hostile to. When we’re talking about fossil fuels, we are giving people an alternative. But when we’re talking about meat, the alternative we give them is very unpalatable to a lot of people.”

Wrong framing can result in polarisation

How can we overcome the underreporting of meat’s role in climate change?

For one, to remove some of the key barriers to more climate coverage on meat production, the media needs a drumbeat of new content, which can be generated with more NGO campaigning and journalistic investigations.

In this regard, it would be impactful if climate and environmental NGOs join forces with animal welfare groups and health experts to amplify messages around the climate, health and animal harms of industrial meat — supported by increased climate philanthropic funding.

Likewise, audacious investigative journalists should dig deeper and unearth new episodes of corporate capture of science and policymaking in this realm.

Second, reworking how to frame narratives and where to place the burden of responsibility is critical in superseding the “contentiousness” of the topic for reporters.

Campaigns — if not framed right — can also create polarisation and fuel culture wars.

The onus of changing how and what food is produced should be on food retailers and governments, not consumers.

Instead of finger-pointing at people for not reducing their meat consumption, the call to action should be to improve the choice context so healthy and sustainable food is the easiest and most affordable option for consumers.

Bad news for some might be good news for people and the planet

Finally, like-for-like alternatives matter when trying to change deeply held cultural habits.

Industry disruptors should deliver more palatable alternative proteins that are as tasty and as cheap as conventional industrial meat to meet consumers where they are in terms of taste and nutritional preferences.

More reporting on the oversized role of livestock in driving climate change will help create political urgency, policy prioritisation and resource allocation.

Contrary to the popular saying, more bad news — about meat production — will be good news for people and the planet.

Nico Muzi is the managing director and co-founder of Madre Brava, a science-based advocacy organisation working to bring in line the food system with the 1.5C climate target.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Food barons: Who are the billionaires profiting from a global crisis?

In the past few years, the world has experienced the rise of food billionaires – companies profiting from skyrocketing prices and making huge revenues while many are forced to cut back or go hungry.

Just like in the energy sector, food companies have been cashing in from the cost of living crisis that has followed the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic. But while companies like Shell and Exxon are almost household names, the names of the businesses pulling the strings of the food industry – Cargill and Walmart, among others – are less well-known, and much less scrutinised.

“It’s surprising in a way, because I think that they’re doing exactly the same thing as the fossil fuel corporations,” Nick Dearden, director of NGO Global Justice Now, told Euronews. “You’ve got a bunch of corporations that are growing more and more and more powerful all the time, gaining more control over different aspects of the food system and massively profiteering.

“And during a cost of living crisis, where many people are struggling to afford heating and food, they are making an absolute fortune and they’re doing it in the same way as the energy corporations. Essentially, they are monopolising a very basic thing that we all need.”

While the supply of food keeps increasing on a global level, even despite the setback caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the war that has followed, and would be “more than enough to feed everybody in the world, the number of people who are chronically malnourished is going up,” Dearden said.

“There’s something really rotten at the heart of the system that allows people to go seriously hungry, to be malnourished, and in the worst cases to starve, while we have enough food.”

In a recent report on the issue, ETC researchers Hope Shand, Kathy Jo Wetter, and Kavya Chowdhry called the biggest players in the food and agricultural industries “food barons” – a title that immediately points to the power these corporations exert on the food industry.

Where do food billionaires come from?

Food barons existed long before the pandemic, or the cost of living crisis. These are companies that have established themselves through decades and have come to control large parts of the sector. But the pandemic and the cost of living crisis have had a huge role in increasing their relevance – and their numbers.

According to a recent report by Oxfam titled “Profiting from pain”, food billionaires have seen their collective wealth grow by an estimated 45 per cent over the past two years – for a total of £328 billion added to their profits. In the same years, 62 new billionaires were created as companies inflated their profits by capitalising on the COVID pandemic and now the growing cost-of-living crisis that has forced many to cut back and even choose between eating or heating their homes.

Same as energy companies, food billionaires have seen their wealth increase by one billion dollars every two days between 2020 and 2022. This surge in profits was mostly led by the trillions of dollars national governments have injected into their economies to keep them from collapsing, which had the unwanted side effect of driving up the price of key assets, like food.

“Looking at the figures, you find that the number of corporations that controlled the wheat industry several decades ago was a relatively small number, but nowhere near as small as it is today,” Dearden said.

“But also those corporations are finding synergies with other parts of the food system that allow them to lock in their controls. So, for example, if you have a huge stake in the pesticide and chemical industry and you also have a huge stake in the seed industry controlling the seeds that farmers grow, that’s a huge synergy because you can ensure that your seeds work with your fertilisers or your chemicals and that they can only be used together and that gives you additional control of the industry.”

The ETC report “Food Barons 2022” found that 2020 “was a horrific year for food security and health – but a bonanza for Big Food and Big Ag [Agriculture].”

The researchers write that in the midst of the pandemic, “these Food Barons made the most of the converging crises in order to tighten their grip on every link in the Industrial Food Chain” undermining “the rights of peasants, smallholders, fishers and pastoralists to produce food for their own communities and many others.”

What are the companies we call “food barons”?

ETC has identified “just four to six” dominant firms which control every aspect of the food industry, from agriculture machinery to animal pharmaceuticals. Two of these are also named by Oxfam in its report about food billionaires: the two “dynasties” of Cargill and Walmart.

Cargill is a global food giant owned by the 11th richest family in the world and one of the world’s largest private companies, though its name is not on the high street and might be unknown to most. In 2017, according to Oxfam, the company was reported among the four controlling over 70 per cent of the global market for agricultural commodities. Fluctuations in the global price of grains have led to Cargill growing its profits and the Cargill family growing its collective wealth by 65% since 2020, with four members joining Forbes list of the richest 500 people in the world.

Cargill’s competitor Louis Dreyfus Co., an agricultural trading house, also made huge profits out of the troubles with the grain market.

Walmart, the supermarket chain which is ubiquitous in the US, has received around $15 billion in cash dividends from the company, as the goods sold in their stores got more expensive and the wages of its employees stayed mostly the same.

Is the food system broken – and can it be fixed?

The problem with the way the food system works at the moment, Dearden said, is that the industry is “in a tiny number of hands and effectively controlled on the basis of how much profit those companies can make” rather than preventing people from being hungry.

“Many food corporations, because they saw that there was going to be panic around the war in Ukraine, they raised prices. They used the crisis to profiteer, essentially,” Dearden said. “And it wasn’t just the food corporations, it was also people speculating on the price of food in the financial markets. And these markets are not only privatised and monopolised, they’re also increasingly financialised as well.”

Speculation around food prices in the financial markets actually contributed to rising food prices, Dearden said.

But there’s a growing movement for creating an alternative food system.

“We work a lot with groups in the Global South, particularly in many African countries and Latin American countries, particularly Brazil and they call themselves small farmer movements.

They are working to create a different food system which actually helps the ordinary small scale farmers that still, interestingly, produce most of the world’s food outside of these gigantic markets.

One way of creating an alternative food system would be to make small-scale farming a financially sustainable profession, without the constant competition of much bigger corporations.

“I think we have to convince people that if [small farming] is the kind of system that they want, if they want good quality food just grown by small producers who are reasonably local to where they are, that’s possible,” Dearden said.

“But we need to have a framework that can make that kind of business manageable, where people are not going to be on the breadline and are not going to be forced out of business by enormous supermarkets, by enormous grain producers, by the financial markets.”

Euronews has contacted Walmart and Cargill’s media team for comment.

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