FOUR PAWS employee protesting in front of the European Parliament

Brussels’ top five fails in animal welfare 

FOUR PAWS launches international campaign in the run-up to EU's polls in June


Brussels, 3 April 2024 – The EU boasts to be a frontrunner in animal welfare and environmental issues. Yet unimaginable suffering is still the sad reality for billions of animals in the EU every day. Be it chickens and minks that are locked up in small cages, endangered species being commercially traded within EU borders, dogs falling victim to the illegal puppy trade or cows being transported for days under appalling conditions.  

Although the European Commission promised to propose revisions in its animal welfare legislation by the end of 2023, initially comprising of four proposals – the welfare of animals kept for economic purposes, during transport, at the time of killing and an animal welfare label – implementation is lagging behind. In the end, only two proposals on transport and cats and dogs were put forward. Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS reveals the EU’s biggest letdowns regarding animal welfare by debunking five myths and calls on EU citizens to use their vote to improve animal welfare in the upcoming EU elections. 

According to a recent Eurobarometer poll, the majority of Europeans want animals to be better protected. “It is a myth that the European Union is a frontrunner in animal welfare. Instead, the EU is falling behind the wishes of its own citizens, who are expecting better protection of animals. With their ballot in the upcoming elections, Europeans can say yes to animal welfare and a better future for billions of animals,” says Corinna Reinisch, Campaign Lead at FOUR PAWS. On its newly launched campaign website FOUR PAWS calls upon voters to ask their MEPs to sign a pledge for improving animal welfare.  

Myth One: The EU implements the call for more animal welfare through ECIs 

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is an instrument open to every EU citizen to participate in the legislative process. Designed to transmit direct democracy to the political agenda, the EU Commission has to reply to initiatives finding great resonance amongst EU’s citizens. Yet, even when passing the crucial threshold of 1 million signatures, some ECIs are still neglected. Three years after the ECI “End the Cage Age” (1,397,113 signatures in 2021), cages are still a narrowing reality for millions of poultry, pigs and rabbits in the EU. The lack of space for these sentient beings hinders them in their physical and psychological needs. Despite the European Commission’s initial commitment to propose legislation to ban cages by the end of 2023, this has not been initiated. This issue has also been brought before the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, as the Citizens’ Committee of the successful “End the Cage Age” ECI has recently started legal action against the European Commission over its failure to deliver its commitment to ban caged farming. FOUR PAWS is backing this claim. 

Myth Two: EU is a frontrunner for animals used in textiles 

Despite a massive fur farm decrease in EU countries due to reduced demand, an increase in national bans, and the mass culling of millions of animals to tackle Sars-CoV-2 and Avian Influenza outbreaks on fur farms, the EU still ranks second in the world with almost 8.5 million (2022) produced skins from mink, raccoon dogs and foxes after China (22 Mio. in 2022). Even after the disastrous effects of the pandemic, the EU as the second largest fur producer causes immense suffering to millions of animals per year. Last year’s ECI calling for a Fur Free Europe with a towering 1,502,319 signatures is another example of the wheels of bureaucracy turning slowly. Again, the participatory part of an ECI is one side to the coin. The other is how this democratic tool finds its way into legislation. For animal welfare this has been a one-sided trade most of the time. Fur farming is still a sad reality in the EU. 

Myth Three: The EU does not have a wildlife trade problem 

Thousands of wild animals are still kept privately or in unregistered facilities and circuses across Europe. Member States cannot confidently provide the number of big cats, such as tigers and lions, and other exotic species kept privately in their country. Currently, there is no reliable way to determine the amount of all wildlife trade into and within the EU despite various EU database systems. In addition, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) database only shows the international number and purpose of trade in big cats, with much intra-EU and domestic trade happening right below Member States’ noses. In April 2023, the EU Tiger Guidance was announced, to phase out the commercial trade of tigers, one of the most endangered species, yet no Member State has publicly announced its implementation. With the Commission’s proposed regulation addressing the welfare of cats and dogs, however, the EU has the chance to tackle part of the wildlife trade problem with the introduction of an EU-wide Positive List which would limit private ownership of exotic species as companion animals. Wild animals with complex ecological needs and requirements should only be kept in legitimate zoos or appropriate sanctuaries. Additionally, the EU has a trade problem when it comes to non-CITES nationally protected species from third countries. This means that nationally protected species illegally taken from their country of origin can be legally imported into the EU, undermining conservation efforts of other countries. 

Myth Four: The EU is a safe place to buy a pet 

While most EU states have identification and registration (microchipping) of dogs on their statute books, it is not a legal requirement in all Member States. This lack of harmonisation across the EU applies to manifold implications companion animals face in the EU. Even if a dog is registered in one country, this can neither be verified nor traced when it leaves its country of origin. For cats, the situation is worse as only a quarter of EU Member States have compulsory microchipping and registration for cats. With growing demand and supply of pets, this leaves the EU pet trade wide open to fraud, which severely compromises public health, animal welfare and consumer protection alike. The sales of dogs online, where most of the puppy trade takes place, also happens with no verification that the animal is reliably linked to the seller. Criminal sellers might be using fake microchip numbers to appear legitimate and sell poorly bred animals from puppy farms and unregulated facilities, leaving owners with sick, unsocialised dogs and large vet bills. These issues were also highlighted in the outcomes Report of the EU Enforcement Action on the Illegal trade of cats and dogs. Laws do not reflect the scale of the problem. In December 2023 the European Commission presented a new regulation on the welfare of cats and dogs that would hopefully address these problems, but the bill already leaves outside its scope millions of animals not immediately traded and foresees a series of unjustifiable exemptions that would only perpetuate current loopholes. 

Myth Five: If born a farm animal, better be born in the EU 

For many animals in the EU, an odyssey begins right after they were born. Like unweaned calves, only a couple of days old, who are taken from their mothers to be transported over long distances across the EU for fattening. Every year over 50 million cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, as well as 1.5 billion poultry are exported within and out of the European Union. The cruel practice of live animal transport is happening in the EU on a daily basis. Animals that are put through these ordeals for days or even weeks by road and sea under cruel conditions, lying in their own excrement, without sufficient ventilation or protection from heat or cold. In many cases the final destination is slaughter. When exported to third countries, sometimes not even stunning is used, resulting in severe violence to make the animals defenseless before and when their throat is cut. The European Commission’s proposed regulation on the welfare of animals during transport fails to address this outstanding problem. 


Morgane Speeckaert

Morgane Speeckaert

EU Communications Coordinator

+39 331 365 4110

Rue Ducale 29, 1000 Brussels


European Policy Office

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in twelve countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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