Since 2002, animal welfare has been a constitutional objective in Germany. Additionally, animals are described by the Animal Welfare Act (Tierschutzgesetz) as "fellow creatures" and protected from suffering, pain or harm without "reasonable grounds". Whether these statutory provisions are implemented appropriately, is, however, frequently questioned. The Federal Administrative Court, for example, ruled in June 2019 with regard to so-called "chick shredding" that purely economic concerns were not sufficient as "reasonable grounds" in accordance to the Animal Welfare Act. Nevertheless, the killing of approximately 45 million male chicks per year in laying hen breeding remains permissible as a transitional solution. The husbandry and slaughter conditions for chickens, pigs or cattle also regularly stimulate societal discussion, for instance recently concerning the issue of a state animal welfare label.
The German Ethics Council takes these current debates as an opportunity to critically evaluate the treatment of livestock from a legal and ethical perspective. The working group will look at differences and discrepancies in dealing with and relating to different animals as well as at the obvious tensions between animal welfare regulations and certain aspects of agricultural practice. The aim of the project is to define more clearly both the protected goods at the heart of animal welfare regulation and the criteria according to which these may be curtailed in favour of other interests. Furthermore, the group aims to examine ways in which such a balancing of interests could be done more honestly and consistently in the future.