sheep arriving at sale yards

Why imports should be incuded in EU animal welfare legislation

As the European Commission prepares new laws to improve animal welfare across the bloc, it must not forget the key to a successful and smooth transition: making sure that the rules apply to imported products.


Since the European Union acknowledged animals as sentient beings and established its farmed animal welfare laws in 1974, the EU has had 40 years of experience with its animal welfare legislation to be able to identify the missing pieces.  

One of these missing pieces has been the discrepancy between EU-made products of animal origin and imports from third countries in terms of animal welfare requirements. It has been shown that the importation of cheaper products from non-EU countries with lower animal welfare standards jeopardises the progress made by EU producers and misleads EU consumers.

How much does the EU actually import?

Though the European Union is a major global exporter of animal products, it also imports large amounts. In 2022 alone, the EU imported €37 billion worth of animal products (19% of all imported agricultural products) while exporting €48 billion worth of animal products.

While the entry of food of animal origin (meat, fish, milk, eggs, and products there of)) from a non-EU country into the EU is approved at the border after a food safety check, these products can be results of farming practices that are illegal in the EU.

At present, there are rules concerning animal health requirements for the entry into the EU of products of animal origin, which are set out in Regulation (EU) 2016/429 on transmissible animal diseases and amending and repealing certain acts of the Animal Health Law. But there are none concerning animal welfare. This puts high-animal welfare farms at a disadvantage both within the EU and globally.

Turkeys in intensive farm

Filthy turkeys lay on the ground at a factory farm in Israel. The birds must live and sleep in their own waste. Intensively bred through genetic manipulation to produce the most meat in the shortest amount of time, turkeys quickly grow unnaturally large. For those who do not die prematurely from their genetics and living conditions, many may have been living with mites, worms, infections, or other injuries until they reach slaughter weight. 

Why exactly should EU legislation apply to imports?

  • Level Playing Field:

Applying animal welfare standards to imported products ensures fair competition for EU producers. If imported goods are produced under lower animal welfare conditions than those required within the EU, it can lead to a distortion in the market by putting local producers at a disadvantage.  

  • Consumer trust:

European consumers are increasingly concerned about the ethical and environmental aspects of the products they purchase. By extending animal welfare regulations to imported products, the EU can reassure consumers that the products they buy meet the same standards – regardless of their origin.  

  • Avoiding Regulatory Arbitrage:

If the EU doesn’t include imports in its animal welfare regulations, there could be a risk of regulatory arbitrage, where producers choose to operate in countries with lower animal welfare standards to cut costs. This would undermine the efforts made within the EU to improve animal welfare. 

  • Long-term impact: 

By incentivising other countries to improve their own animal welfare standards to meet EU import requirements, the EU can contribute to lasting positive change on a global scale, impacting the lives of countless animals.

Cow with placenta hanging

A cow who gave birth a few hours ago walks around her pen with a full udder and the remaining placenta hanging out in Quebec. Canada has no legal requirement for dairy cows to be allowed outside, so more often than not, cows are often kept indoors year-round. Cows are typically artificially inseminated and their calves are taken from them within the first hours of their lives so that their mothers can enter the milking system.

It's now or never (or in a very long time)

As the European Commission revises the current EU legislation on animal welfare and presents new legislative proposals to bring the laws up to date with the newest scientific evidence and citizen demands this Autumn, it can finally include imports within its scope.  

After the new legislative proposals are published, EU Animal Welfare legislation won’t be revised again for several decades, so now is the time to make this happen. We therefore call on the European Commission to include imports within the scope of its upcoming proposals on Transport, Slaughter, Kept Animals and Labeling.  

Morgane Speeckaert

Morgane Speeckaert

EU Communications Coordinator

+32 2 74 00 888

+39 331 365 4110

Rue Ducale 29, 1000 Brussels


European Policy Office

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