By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.
June 6, 2024

German Animal Welfare Act: much promised, little achieved.

Amendment to the German Animal Welfare Act – 6 missed opportunities for animal welfare

After months of negotiations, the German Federal Cabinet adopted the desired revision of the German Animal Welfare Act on May 24, 2024. Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir presented the new legislative package as a major step towards improving animal welfare in Germany. A closer look at the planned changes reveals considerable shortcomings and makes it clear that the reform falls short of expectations and requirements.

In 2002, animal protection was enshrined as a national objective in the German Basic Law. This undoubtedly represented a milestone for the legal protection of non-human animals in Germany. However, the actual improvements in animal protection have often proved to be slow and inadequate.

Against this background, the present draft bill to amend the German Animal Welfare Act promises to close existing gaps in the law. On closer inspection, the proposed measures prove to be largely ineffective.

What was decided?

The draft law provides for the following measures, among others:

  • Ban on permanent tethering in ten years at the latest. Farms that keep fewer than 50 cattle over 6 months old and allow them temporary exercise throughout the year can continue tethering.
  • Mandatory video surveillance of animal welfare-relevant areas in slaughterhouses.
  • Ban on the breeding, exhibition and advertising of non-human animals with characteristics of overbreeding.
  • Reduction of non-curative procedures.
  • Ban on keeping certain animal species, such as elephants, monkeys and giraffes, in traveling circuses.
  • Increased penalties for animal abuse.

The major shortcomings of the reform

At first glance, these changes may seem significant. However, a closer look shows that many measures fall short of expectations.

Delayed ban on tethering

Originally, year-round tethering was to be banned in five years at the latest. The extension to ten years that has now been agreed means even longer suffering for the cattle concerned.

It is problematic to continue to allow combined husbandry on farms with fewer than 50 cattle and the possibility of continuing this practice when farms are handed over. This legalizes a form of husbandry that has long been outdated from an animal welfare perspective.

This form of husbandry, which is contrary to animal welfare, must be banned without exception – now and not in ten years' time!

Read all about tethering in our white paper “Breaking the Chains: A Comprehensive Report on the Tethering of Cattle."

Neglected controls in slaughterhouses

The draft law provides for video surveillance in slaughterhouses above a certain size. Small slaughterhouses that do not have to appoint an animal welfare officer for “the protection of animals at the time of killing” are exempt from the regulation. These are slaughterhouses in which fewer than 1,000 so called livestock units of mammals or 150,000 poultry or rabbits are slaughtered annually.  

This is not enough. Small commercial slaughterhouses also repeatedly violate animal welfare laws, as undercover recordings and investigations show. These must therefore also be monitored.

According to the current draft, the recordings only have to be stored for 30 days. This is far too short, as investigative proceedings by authorities take much longer on average. The specified time frame in which the videos are stored must therefore be increased.

Insufficient measures against overbreeding

The revised paragraph on overbreeding also falls short of expectations. The list of breeding-related traits of overbreeding is incomplete and does not take sufficient account of key traits, especially in so-called farm animals.

Furthermore, not only the breeding, but also the keeping of non-human animals with characteristics due to overbreeding that lead to pain, suffering or harm should be prohibited.

The long transitional period of 15 years is unacceptable. It means that, until then, breeding with individuals that exhibit traits associated with overbreeding will continue – a clear violation of current law.

Since 2021, a database called the Qualzucht-Evidenz Netzwerk (QUEN) has been created to collect data on breeds and traits of overbreeding. The QUEN database is intended to make an important contribution to improving and enforcing national and international animal welfare legislation.

Non-curative procedures: compromises instead of consistency

Non-curative procedures are medical or surgical procedures on non-human animals that are not intended to cure diseases, but for other purposes such as adaptation or cosmetics. Such interventions are already prohibited by law in Germany. However, the law has been undermined by a series of exceptions.

The amendment to the law is intended to finally enforce the ban on tail docking in lambs. The requirements for piglets are to be made more specific, but not significantly stricter.  

The number of piglets without tails, around 90 to 95 percent of all animals kept, is not expected to decrease significantly. The dehorning of calves will continue to be permitted by way of an exception. The only new regulation is that they must be anesthetized.

The euphemistic term “non-curative procedures” disguises the mutilation of animals in the name of adaptation to husbandry systems. These mutilations represent serious interventions. Many of them are also carried out without anesthesia, without sufficient anesthesia or without professional anesthesia.

The sole purpose of these procedures is to adapt the animals to suboptimal husbandry systems and are unacceptable from an animal welfare perspective.

Read more about this topic in our article “Mutilation of farmed animals”.

Circus – ring (still) free for animal suffering

Very few non-human animals can lead a species-appropriate life if they have to keep changing location. In addition, working in the circus ring is exhausting and stressful for them.

Keeping and displaying non-human animals in circuses is contrary to animal welfare. Non-human animals have no place in the entertainment industry, as it is not possible for them to lead a self-determined life there.

Therefore, the only demand in line with animal welfare is a general ban on non-human animals in circuses.

Failed plans for live animal transports

In its coalition agreement, the German government has announced that live animal transports to third countries will be better regulated and monitored in future. For instance, only “routes with proven animal welfare-compliant supply facilities” are to be permitted.

The new draft law does not mention live animal transports to third countries. This is another missed opportunity to seriously improve animal welfare standards and follow up the words in the coalition agreement with action.

The role of the FDP and Bavarian resistance

The liberal party FDP (Free Democratic Party) repeatedly blocked or weakened measures in the negotiations, which led to the current compromises. The Bavarian Farmers' Association also lobbied heavily against the ban on tethering. Among other things, they launched a petition to save small farmers from “the end”. This resistance played a major role in ensuring that the reforms were not as far-reaching as originally planned.

Conclusion: Animal welfare remains secondary

The amendment to the German Animal Welfare Act is a disappointment. Instead of a genuine reform in the interests of non-human animals, abusive practices are being legalized for decades to come. The continuing concessions to economic interests show that the protection of animals is still not a priority.

The final decision is still pending! In the parliamentary procedure that now follows, politicians can still make improvements in the interests of animal welfare. We must increase the pressure on the decision-makers so that significant improvements for animals can finally be achieved.




In our glossary, we explain our use of language and why we do not use some words, use them differently, or use them just so. In addition, technical terms are explained and sometimes illustrated graphically or in pictures.

( Glossary )