Swedish animal welfare laws continue to strengthen – study

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Laws that protect the welfare of horses, cattle and pigs in Sweden have tightened in recent decades, researchers have found, although the number of specific legal requirements have been relaxed.

Frida Lundmark Hedman, Charlotte Berg and Margareta Stéen, writing in the diary Animals, traced 30 years of change in Swedish animal welfare law and reviewed the current state of its laws.

The trio, along with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, noted that Sweden is often cited as a leading country in animal welfare and related legislation.

They reviewed suggested changes to Swedish welfare legislation between 1988 and 2019 regarding horses, cattle and pigs, including written motivations, written responses from stakeholders and actual changes to the final regulation. .

They used a sample of 77 legal requirements to assess whether the level of animal welfare was affected by these changes in legislation.

The results showed that the animal welfare requirements in the country for horses, cattle and pigs increased overall over the 30-year study period, but several specific requirements were relaxed. to satisfy interests other than animal welfare.

“It was more difficult to determine whether animal welfare improved in practice over the same period, due to the lack of systematic assessments of the consequences of the regulatory change,” they said.

Future evaluations are needed to assess the results of new laws and to monitor whether they are fulfilling their function in practice.

Sweden has had requirements for allowing animals to adopt their natural behaviors since the 1988 Animal Welfare Act, including making summer grazing compulsory for dairy cows and banning sow crates and crates. battery cages for laying hens.

Sweden’s most recent animal welfare law, introduced in April 2019, pushes the animal welfare position further. It not only states that animals should be allowed to express their natural behaviors and be protected from unnecessary suffering, but also that good animal welfare should be ensured, animal welfare should be promoted and all animals should be respected.

Animal welfare legislation in Sweden is enacted at three levels. Parliament is responsible for the Animal Welfare Act, which sets general goals and frameworks for animal welfare. The government is responsible for the Animal Welfare Ordinance, which is also drafted in fairly general terms, while the Swedish Board of Agriculture is responsible for national regulations regarding animal welfare.

The authors said the latter had updated animal welfare regulations for cattle, pigs and horses on several occasions since 1988, with 20 updates for cattle, 16 for pigs and 11 for horses.

They noted that animal welfare regulations for horses were very scarce in 1989 and that horses were excluded from most existing requirements for housing and management of animals until 1993.

The requirements were extended in 1993 to cover horses, for example stipulating that horses must be kept clean, have daily care and supervision, have well-trimmed hooves, have access to nutritious food and have a dry, clean stable with a satisfactory indoor climate. .

However, only horses bred and kept for “competition purposes” were covered by the regulations at the time, while for other horses the requirements were intended for general guidance only. In 2003, the regulations were extended to all horses.

In 2007, the Swedish Animal Care Agency introduced additional requirements regarding the need for social contact of horses, the provision of daily exercise in pens or similar areas, the limitation of the time that horses could be tethered in the stalls and the ban on the construction of new stables with attached stalls.
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The most comprehensive changes regarding horses were made in 2007, when the Swedish Animal Care Agency introduced additional requirements regarding the need for social contact of horses, providing daily exercises in pens or similar areas. , by limiting the time during which horses can be tied in stalls, and prohibiting the construction of new stables with tied stalls.

In 2018, the Swedish Council of Agriculture revised the equine regulations in a more structural than contextual way, in order to make them more focused, flexible and less detailed.

Since 1989, the number of animal welfare requirements for horses has increased from 4 to 50.

The authors noted that regulations tend to set the minimum level of animal welfare, not the best possible level. “So a change in regulation may mean that one minimum requirement is replaced by another minimum requirement. “

They said that an improved level of protection does not necessarily mean improved animal welfare. “While it can be assumed that many of the regulatory improvements lead to better animal welfare in practice at the farm level, the changes should be evaluated more systematically and in more detail to verify this correlation. . “

They said animal welfare regulations exist to protect animals, but the changes are not based solely on new scientific findings relating to animal welfare per se.

“On the contrary, several other aspects, such as politics, economy, geographically conditioned lands, climatic constraints and opinions of society, also affect legislation.”

According to its government mandate, in addition to fighting for animal welfare, the Swedish Council of Agriculture must also improve the competitiveness of Swedish farmers and enable an increase in Swedish food production. “Such guidelines will sometimes lead to relaxation of animal welfare regulations. “

Hedman, Berg and Stéen said their study does not indicate an ideal way to write or change legislation, nor does it identify an ideal level of animal protection to be specified in legislation.

“The results can nonetheless serve as a useful tool for public or private decision-makers to improve transparency in the commenting process and reveal the delicate balance between the different interests in this process.”

Lundmark Hedman, F .; Berg, C .; Stéen, M. Thirty years of changes and the current state of Swedish animal welfare legislation. Animals 2021, 11, 2901. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11102901

The study, published under a Creative Commons license, can be read here.

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