Anima International’s investigation reveals dreadful conditions at a laying hen farm of the biggest egg producer in the European Union and a major exporter
September 12, 2023
December 27, 2023
On October 15, Polish citizens headed to the polling stations to elect their representatives for the next four years. The coalition of opposition parties which secured the majority in Parliament has turned the tide of political force in the country. The upcoming parliamentary term brings opportunities, as well as numerous challenges for animal welfare in Poland and beyond. What are the potential implications for animals of the election results?
Poland is one of the biggest net meat exporters in the world. According to the Polish Development Fund, in 2021 the country was the fourth-largest net exporter of processed meat, fish, or shellfish in the world and the eighth-largest net exporter of meat and edible offal. The poultry industry is of particular significance with 1,451,000,000 broiler chickens hatched in 2022 and more than half of the poultry meat being exported. Currently, there are over 52,800,000 egg-laying hens in Poland, and 72% of them are still kept in cages. There are also 3,430,000 animals (mostly mink) killed for fur every year in Poland (in 2015, the yearly export of fur skins from the country increased to over 10 million, but since then, the number of fur animals has been in decline).
Due to its size and economy – Poland is the fifth-largest European Union Member State by population – Poland plays an important role in Europe. For these reasons, Polish internal politics significantly impact the direction of the EU as a whole, especially in the agricultural sector. One example of this was the attempt of the Polish government to block the EU’s Green Deal.
For the past eight years (2015–2023), Poland was ruled by a government formed by the majority party Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość), a national-conservative party with an interventionist approach to the economy. The party belongs to the European Conservatives and Reformists Party in the EU. Animal welfare is not part of Law and Justice’s political program, however, a significant number of their MPs and MEPs¹ have been involved in animal welfare initiatives, like the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals in the European Parliament.
Between 2015 and 2020, Anima International had relatively good relations with some of the party’s MPs and MEPs as a result of several instances of cooperation. In 2018, Law and Justice MEPs co-organized with Eurogroup for Animals (and with the help of Anima International) the Make Fur History exhibition in the European Parliament. The same year, MEP Zdzisław Krasnodębski organized a field trip to visit communities in Poland living in areas surrounded by poultry farms to better understand the risks of expansion of poultry farming in Poland for people and animals. This trip was co-organized by Eurogroup for Animals and the Polish team of Anima International. Multiple MPs from Law and Justice were involved in local attempts to stop new factory farms in Poland from being established. According to some Law and Justice politicians, animal welfare is part of conservative politics.
It’s worth noting that the last few years marked an unprecedented milestone in business-oriented advocacy in Poland. Anima International started a cage-free campaign in 2014, which gained traction especially after 2016, when we began securing cage-free commitments from all the major players on the market. Due to these efforts, we witnessed significant market changes. In January 2014, 87.39% of egg-laying hens were kept in cages. As of December 15, 2023, it was 71.97%. We also saw companies committing to better chicken welfare or discontinuing the sales of live fish.²
Finally, in 2020, Law and Justice proposed major changes in the animal protection bill. The initiative was referred to as the ‘five for animals’, reflecting the five major categories of improvements in animal protection. The proposal was presented at a press conference organized only hours after the release of our investigation into the biggest mink farm in Poland. The suggested legislation covered many topics and different species – from companion animals to farmed animals. In our view,³ the ban on fur farming would have had the biggest impact, as it would affect 3–4 million animals per year.⁴
While there was some skepticism about Law and Justice’s intentions, animal advocates, as well as most MPs, reacted with great enthusiasm, as the bill represented a significant advancement for animal protection in Poland. The beginning of the bill’s consideration was promising: there was widespread and multipartisan support, and one of Law and Justice’s MPs even used photos from Anima International’s fur farm investigations when speaking in Parliament.
However, the situation changed when some of the farmer’s organizations started protesting against the bill. The public debate became very politicized and the Law and Justice party started to feel negative pressure. The bill was criticized by Tadeusz Rydzyk, an influential conservative cleric connected to Law and Justice who has his own media empire. The biggest fur farmers are regular guests in his media. All of this turned the initial public enthusiasm into a political battle that Law and Justice was not prepared for.
Additionally, when the bill was still expected to have a big chance to pass, the Polish constitutional tribunal passed a near-total ban on abortion. In the public perception, this decision was controlled by Law and Justice. This led to massive protests on the streets of many cities in Poland. This situation made Law and Justice step back from any controversial initiatives, including the animal protection bill.
Out of all the proposed changes, it was the ban on ritual slaughter (slaughtering animals with no prior stunning to conform to religious practices) that sparked the most controversy.⁵ Poland is one of the key exporters of kosher and halal meat, and many farmers feared it would affect the profitability of production. This led to widespread farmer protests and further pressure on the government. The agriculture industry is an influential force in Poland, as politicians want to secure support from rural parts of the country. This controversy over ritual slaughter, combined with the widespread protests against the law on abortion mentioned above, pushed Law and Justice to slowly backtrack on the proposed reforms, becoming afraid of weakening their political power. The ‘five for animals’ bill was initially voted on in Parliament, but in the end, Law and Justice decided not to proceed with it despite support among MPs.
The bill failed, and with it, the hopes for important changes for animals in Poland while Law and Justice was in office. In our analysis, we identified the following reasons for its demise:
In our opinion, most of the problems could have been avoided had Law and Justice consulted with animal advocacy organizations, which they sadly failed to do.
The bill’s defeat led Law and Justice to completely abandon the topic of animal protection.⁶ Since the autumn of 2020, the politicians of the then-ruling party have discontinued any communication related to animals, political discussions about animal welfare have become much more difficult, and politicians have been more hesitant to propose any changes that would affect agriculture, possibly for fear of another backlash. With the elections on horizon in October 2023, the parties became very sensitive to public relations. Law and Justice was trying to bring back their rural voters, and opposition parties were trying to increase their support among farmers. This not only halted promising changes for animals but also created a chilling effect that made it extremely difficult to work on any other policy solutions.
For these reasons, it was vital to bring back the topic of animal protection to politics in the lead-up to the 2023 elections. It was especially crucial to secure support for the welfare progress among the opposition parties to make sure that, if they won, it would be possible to discuss such issues in the new Parliament.
Before the elections, together with other groups (Compassion in World Farming, Albert Schweitzer Foundation, Green Rev Institute, and Eurogroup for Animals), we launched a campaign website dedicated to elections and animals. The goal was to create political pressure by rating political parties based on their policies concerning animals and publishing a ranking that highlighted the parties which supported progressive changes for animals. The parties were ranked based on their position on a total of 16 asks for animals. Each of the organizations had their own focus, and Anima International focused on a ban on fur farming, a ban on cages, and a ban on fast-growing breeds of broiler chickens.
Framing it as a ranking of political parties put pressure on the laggers to publicly state their position on the suggested changes, as well as making it interesting for the media, leading to significant visibility of animal welfare in pre-election debates. Our three key issues: a ban on fur farming, phasing out cages, and phasing out the fast-growing breeds of broiler chickens were supported by almost all opposition parties with the exception of the Polish People’s Party and Agrounia. While this support doesn’t mean that the new government will be eager to introduce any of the changes, the pre-election commitments are a very promising starting point.
It’s worth highlighting that the success of the election website and the political ranking tool was the result of strong cooperation between the organizations involved. Politicians and the media perceived it as something that we did as a movement rather than individual groups.
The parliamentary elections took place on October 15, 2023. Following an intensive campaign, Law and Justice received (35.38%) of votes. While this was the highest result among all individual parties, Law and Justice has not been able to form a government as they lost the majority in Parliament to the coalition of opposition parties made up of Civic Coalition, Third Way, and The New Left. The 2023 parliamentary elections recorded an all-time high voter turnout of 74%. This is the highest since the fall of communism in 1989.
There are 460 seats in the Sejm (the highest organ of state authority). Law and Justice was unable to form a government as no other party was willing to join them. The opposition parties secured the majority of the seats:
The visibility of animal welfare issues in the pre- and post-election public debates has put animal advocacy in Poland in a very good position to work with the new MPs towards legislative changes for the animals. However, we need to be very careful not to set our hopes too high and to make sure we don’t fall short by not being careful, otherwise, we may again risk the chilling effect on policy changes in Poland.
Support for the fur farming ban before the elections was voiced by members of almost all opposition parties, and as we’ve learned from the 2020 animal protection bill vote, many MPs from Law and Justice also support it. Małgorzata Tracz from the Green Party initiated the Parliamentary Team for the Fur Farming Ban, and she wants to lead the process to introduce the legislation. As the number of fur farms and animals kept on them is declining every year, we also expect the opposition to the ban to be weaker.
Unfortunately, both banning the cage farming of hens while 72% of these animals are still kept in cages, and phasing out fast-growing breeds when Poland relies heavily on the exports of meat from fast-growing chickens, seems very challenging. The pre-election pledges of support have opened the mainstream political conversations about these issues, but we can’t expect immediate legislative proposals, as it usually takes years from the initial declaration of political support to implementing the law. That being said, introducing these topics into politics is an important step forward, as it brings the topic to the front of the MPs’ attention and allows animal advocates to build the foundations for legislative changes (collecting data, as well as influencing political institutions and public debate). If corporate progress for hens and chickens continues to happen, then we might begin to see new political opportunities. Once cage-egg production or the use of fast-growing chickens becomes less dominant in the market, it will be possible to have a political discussion about legislative changes. The animal advocacy movement in Poland has laid solid foundations for future policy work, however, we need to remember that political and legislative change takes time.
The new government is also considered much more pro-EU compared to the previous ruling party, and we expect it to be easier to work with the new Ministry of Agriculture on improving EU legislation for animals. If the EU revision of animal welfare legislation comes back on the table, we are in a better position to get the support of the Polish government for the key changes.
After the failure of the 2020 animal protection bill, it became difficult to get politicians involved in any action aiming for meaningful legislation for animals. It was especially visible in the case of the MPs of Law and Justice, even those who are in favor of improvements in animal welfare. In our opinion, the joint work of several organizations before the elections led to a re-opening of the political debate about animals and agriculture in Poland. Many parties and politicians, who now form the government, pledged to support key changes for the animals, like a fur farming ban, eliminating cages, or phasing out fast-growing breeds of broiler chickens. However, this has to be read in the context of Poland being a post-communist country in which animal agriculture is a significant part of the national economy, and improvements such as the ones discussed in this text will be very difficult to achieve, even if many MPs publicly pledge to support them. The elections haven’t changed anything for animals, but they broke us out of the three-year deadlock.
In Anima International, we think of policy work as one of the key tools for the improvement of animal welfare. This is a far less tractable tool than corporate outreach but quite often with comparable results.⁷ In addition, because breaking corporate commitments is harder to enforce than breaking the law, policy changes support corporate work by leveling competition and avoiding coordination failures where one bad actor tries to outcompete others by backsliding. Legislative changes can also have an impact beyond one country or one region, as it is in the case of the so-called Brussels effect. Moreover, legislative change is also a strong signal to the market that particular changes are unavoidable, potentially making companies comfortable with introducing them. For these reasons, we stayed politically active even in times when it seemed like very little could be achieved. Unfortunately, in politics, it often takes years to see the results of the work.
We also strongly believe in political neutrality as an animal advocacy organization. We never publicly support political issues or publish political statements. When it comes to political issues outside the scope of our expertise, we choose to take a neutral position. This stems from the conviction that we need to find a common language with politicians from across the political spectrum, and that speaking out on topics on which we don’t have expert knowledge might undermine our credibility. In our opinion, caring about animals is not a matter of political opinion, therefore we always strive to work with all politicians who are open to discussion about animal welfare, no matter their political affiliation. This is not easy when politics is very polarized, as is the case in Poland, but we believe it is vital for our mission to help animals.
Working on political advocacy in a country where animal agriculture is a significant part of the national economy is challenging, but with a good strategy and execution, progress for animals is possible. The failure of the 2020 bill may have been the most frustrating moment in the history of animal advocacy in Poland, and it took a lot of resilience to keep pushing forward, but we feel that today we are in a much better place to work on legislative change. While we see great opportunities on the horizon, we also need to be realistic about the possible pace of progress in countries like Poland. So while we witnessed animal protection in Poland being forced to take a step back, we are ready to take a huge leap forward.
The following people provided feedback and input: Jakub Stencel, Anna Kozłowska, Kirsty Henderson, Ilona Rabizo, Katarzyna Sokołowska, Joh Vinding, Haven King-Nobles
Paweł Rawicki is one of the co-founders of Anima International and the CEO of its Polish member organization. His primary responsibility lies in overseeing campaigns. Paweł is also involved in political advocacy and creating the long-term strategies and vision for the Polish organization.
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