18/06/2012 09:58 BST | Updated 18/08/2012 06:12 BST

Animal Welfare As the Humane Thing to Do


They are not eligible to vote and most of them live thousands of miles away from the nearest EU country, so there was no reason for MEPs to even take an interest. Still the European Parliament took a key role in preventing thousands of seals being killed for use in luxury products.

Being directly elected, MEPs have always been keen to take up issues that people care deeply about, such as animal welfare. This is why the Parliament always looks for opportunities to improve the lives and treatment of animals. This week the agricultural committee will discuss the EU's strategy for the protection and welfare of animals 2012-2015. This is not a new move for Parliament, which has long been active on animal welfare, including the hunting of baby seals.

Every year about 900,000 seals are hunted, especially in Canada, Greenland and Namibia. Animal welfare organisations have been campaigning for decades against what they see as a cruel and unnecessary practice.

Parliament has been involved for 30 years. In 1982, MEPs voted in favour of a ban on the import of seal pups furs, which led the EU - then known as the European Economic Community - to adopt

a temporary ban. It was an immediate success as catches dropped dramatically and in 1987 Canada banned the offshore hunting of baby seals and blueback hooded seals altogether.

The Parliament went one step further on 6 September 2006 when it adopted a written declaration calling on the European Commission to ban the import, export and sale of all harp and hooded seal products. With 425 signatures it enjoyed the highest level of support of any Parliamentary declaration until that point. A Commission proposal swiftly followed, which was approved by the Parliament. As the EU is one of the largest markets for seal fur products in the world, seal hunting was dealt a serious blow.

With around 100 million pet dogs and cats in the EU, plus some 2 billion birds and 300 million farm animals (with a further 12 million animals used in testing) it makes sense for animal welfare to be a key topic for MEPs.

Animals have a special status in EU legislation: article 13 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union recognises animals as sentient beings, meaning their well-being should be considered when drafting new legislation. The EU is not all talk. Every year it spends on average €70 million to support animal welfare.

Still, there is always room for further improvement. The EU's strategy for the protection and welfare of animals sets out what should be done in the period up to 2015. Parliament is currently looking at how it can improve the current Commission proposal. Marit Paulsen, who is responsible for steering the proposal through Parliament, has written a report with recommendations, which will be discussed by the agricultural committee on Tuesday 19 June. The MEP makes several suggestions such as introducing a duty of care for all animal owners and handlers and calling attention to the issue of un-stunned slaughter.

Once it has been approved by the committee, the proposal will still need to be voted on in full plenary. But MEPs are sure to do everything they can to safeguard the best interests of our furry friends.