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EU launches new animal welfare strategy

03 March 2012

On 19 January 2012 the EC ‘adopted a new four-year strategy … to further improve the welfare of animals in the European Union’. The strategy recognises that ‘the market does not provide sufficient economic incentives for compliance’. It adopts a two-pronged approach: ‘a proposal for a comprehensive animal welfare law and a reinforcement of current actions’.

The strategy focuses on:

  • strengthening compliance;
  • improving consumer information on animal-friendly products and
  • optimising synergies within the CAP.

The focus will be on improving outcomes for animals, including through better training and education of those involved in handling animals. Under the new strategy, operators are given flexibility in how they attain the necessary welfare standards by different routes.

An evaluation prepared as background to the new strategy found that ‘welfare standards have imposed additional costs … estimated at around 2% of the overall value of [the livestock and experimental] sectors’. There is no evidence that this threatens the sustainability of EU livestock production. The EC argues: ‘The competitiveness of EU producers is one of the key objectives of the Commission’s policy on animal welfare. There is no point in improving EU welfare standards if it has the effect of increasing imports from third countries with lower standards.’ The Commission therefore states that ‘EU values towards animals will be promoted abroad’, recording that it ‘has invested increasing resources to develop international standards on animal welfare’.

To ensure a level playing field between EU and third country suppliers the EC will:

  • continue to include animal welfare in bilateral trade agreements, to increase opportunities for bilateral cooperation;
  • remain active in the multilateral arena, including where appropriate, organising major international events on animal welfare issues.

Copa-Cogeca has welcomed the new EC strategy, despite farmers’ concerns over the lack of ‘concrete actions on how to better distribute along the food chain the high animal welfare production costs EU producers have to meet’. Farmers also question how willing consumers are to pay more for animal-friendly products. Copa-Cogeca also call on the EC to ‘ensure when negotiating trade agreements … that the same standards which apply in the EU also apply to imports’. 

Editorial comment

The element of the new EU strategy which allows operators to attain animal welfare outcomes by different routes is potentially of significance to ACP beef exporters. The main ACP exporters use extensive grazing production systems, with different requirements for ensuring the welfare of animals during transportation. The flexibility permitted under the new strategy should allow animal welfare arrangements to be established that are appropriate to the production systems prevailing in ACP countries, provided that the desired outcomes in terms of animal welfare are attained.

While the EC points out that it has not traditionally sought to use trade arrangements to enforce compliance with its own animal welfare standards, in tuna fishery the EU is increasingly seeking to apply production standards to the granting of the right to place tuna products for sale on the EU market. This could be a trend which is eventually extended to the livestock sector, with compliance with various production related standards being a prerequisite for placing products for sale on the EU market.

Developments in this direction need to be the subject of a carefully structured dialogue.

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