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Online Debate, Discussion and Commentary

Is Europe (the EU) Good for Animals?

For Europe
Commissioner David Byrne

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak to you today. I am aware of the important role your group has played and will continue to play in the European policy making process in the field of animal welfare.

You know the history. The publication in 1962 in the USA of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring and a few years later, Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines in the UK have triggered a new way of thinking in society as regards animal welfare. In particular, they have highlighted the consequences of modern intensive animal production or ‘factory farming’. These two books opened a new chapter in the way the increasingly urbanised general public, at least in northern Europe and North America, looked at agriculture.

They were published and became widely read in the early to mid 60s when many of the comfortable and long-accepted assumptions of western society were being questioned and challenged. They ended the widespread assumption, shared even by veterinarians and other professionals in the field, that farmers could be relied upon to look after the welfare of their animals. This was not necessarily because of any sentimental attachment but because, it was assumed, that farm animals would not be productive if their welfare was compromised.

Growing interest in farm animal treatment

The concept of animal welfare was closely associated with the prevention of cruelty to animals rather than with the promotion of the well being of animals. Thus, European legislation was focussed on preventing and punishing acts of outright cruelty and neglect. Gradually, it was realised that the well being of a farm animal was not necessarily linked to their productivity.

Since then, we have observed an ever-growing consumer interest in the way farm animals are kept, transported and slaughtered. This has been accompanied by a multiplication in citizens concerns regarding animal welfare. The animal welfare organisations represent the conscience of today’s society in these matters. This evening is an opportunity for me to learn of this Inter-Group’s views on how the Commission could better address animal welfare issues.

I must confess that I have not had the time to look into animal welfare issues in the detail which the issue deserves. My first months in Office have been dominated by food safety and public health issues. None of you present here needs any reminding of the particular pressure on the Commission in these areas in recent months.

I will not pretend that I have all the solutions to the problems and challenges involved in the area of animal welfare. Nor will I have precise answers for all your questions. However, I do intend to set out my preliminary views on animal welfare issues which I hope to develop further with your help and co-operation.

Protocol on Animal Welfare

With regard to the situation today, I have to refer first to the Protocol on Animal Welfare that has been annexed to the Final Act of the Treaty of the European Union. It obliges the European Institutions to fully consider animal welfare in the drafting and implementation of Community legislation. The adoption of the Protocol implies the concept of some kind of ‘animal welfare impact assessment’ from the different institutions involved in legislative matters.

It is for this reason that, in the context of the recently published White Paper on Food Safety, it is recognised that animal welfare questions need to be integrated more fully into food policy. It is also foreseen that animal welfare issues belong to the tasks of the European Food Safety Authority. I might add that this is not an especially accepted view in the Member States and in business circles. I have been told, on many occasions, that animal welfare is not an issue of food safety and that the Commission should not confuse the two issues. This is a view I do not accept and which I intend to disregard

Returning to the issue of animal welfare and the proposed Food Safety Authority, I see a particularly important role for scientific advice and information. I expect that the Authority should provide such advice and information to the Commission on all matters having a direct or indirect impact on consumer health and safety arising from the consumption of food.

The Commission will give priority to a different course of action by taking into account:

– the opinions given by the Scientific Committee on Animal Welfare,

– the experience of the Member States in relation to the enforcement of the different legislative acts,

– the reports of the inspections performed by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office, and,

– information officially provided by animal welfare organisations.

Long distance transport

The Food and Veterinary Office, is aware of the increasing importance attached to animal welfare and will continue to ensure that, amongst its other responsibilities, animal welfare will be given corresponding importance. Reports from the Office identified problems in implementation and enforcement of animal welfare legislation in Member States. Based on these reports and independent scientific opinion we continue to develop and fine-tune the Community policies in this field whist taking into account the concerns of our society,

A particular area of concern is the protection of animals during long distance transport, in particular horses from Eastern and Central European countries. The international dimension of this matter has proven to be very problematic. The issue of compatibility with WTO rules arises if action were to be taken against transport arriving from third countries. The Commission considers that there is a serious doubt that the provisions of the Directive would be found compatible with WTO rules in relation to its application to operators on third country territory.

However, the Commission will see to it that existing legislation is implemented and enforced in a satisfactory way at the Border Inspection Posts of the Union We also intend to give particular attention to this issue in the preparation of the candidate countries for adhesion. have already asked my services to systematically raise the issue in their bilateral contacts with these countries.

Furthermore, the Commission has started to negotiate the participation of the European Community in the revised European Convention for the Protection of Animals during International Transports. This will help ensure an acceptable level of animal welfare protection in Europe and accelerate the process of harmonisation of legislation on animal protection in the candidate Countries. For outgoing consignments, I anticipate positive effects from the regulation, which makes the granting of an export refund conditional on the satisfactory implementation of the provisions of Directive 91/628/EEC. I strongly believe that with this regulation the enforcement of the transport rules when animals are exported to third countries will be improved.

Staying in the international context, in accordance with Directive 98/58/EC, the Commission will soon provide a report to the Council on the comparison between animal welfare provisions in the Community and in third countries which supply the Community with animals and animal products.

We have analysed replies from 73 countries, including the main EU trading partners. This report and its adoption have to be considered in the context of our experiences in Seattle last year. In the finalisation of the report, the Commission will take into account the results of the WTO negotiations in an attempt to reconcile prevailing WTO Member’s views with Community legislation and opinions of the EU consumer.

Given the uncertain prospects for an agreement on a mandate for a comprehensive trade round, the Commission will have to examine how to pursue its objectives regarding animal welfare in the post-Seattle context. At Seattle one thing became very clear: the Community had essentially no support for its animal welfare objectives.

However, we will continue to make our case for a comprehensive new round. Let there be no mistake: multilateral discussions within the WTO are the best means to improved standards at the international level. In the absence of such discussions, progress will be difficult to achieve.

Now, I would like to turn to recent legislative initiatives:


In the field of protection of animals during transport, three proposals are in hand.

A possible proposal to this end shall have to take into account the opinion of the Scientific Committee on the ‘standards for the microclimate inside animal transport vehicles’.

As regards on-farm animal welfare aspects, a draft proposal is in preparation, which mainly includes provisions for keeping of sows in groups to ensure their social behaviour patterns. I intend that the Commission proposal will be submitted to the Council and the Parliament for approval in the second half of this year.

Furthermore, the Commission is requested to submit to the Council any proposals that may be necessary for the uniform application of the European Convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes.

In this context, the Scientific Committee on Animal Welfare has started to prepare a report on welfare aspects of fur farming, which is expected for the end of this year. A further report on the welfare of cattle kept for fattening is also expected.

Eid-el-Kabir slaughter

Finally, I would like to inform you about the Commissions position on the unacceptable treatment of animals during the Eid-el-Kabir festival in France, a topic which cannot have escaped your attention. The treatment of animals in the course of this ‘festival’ is in breach of Community legislation.

I have been engaged in correspondence with the French authorities in the matter. They have assured me that they are taking the Commission’s concerns very seriously. The Community legislation in the matter is also accepted as well-founded in every respect — public health, animal welfare and the environment. I am assured that France is committed to significant efforts to reduce unacceptable practices which have been the subject of EU-wide public concern.

However, they also ask for understanding of the very sensitive religious, cultural and ethnic considerations involved. In the face of these considerations, France argues that precipitate action would risk creating an even worse situation where such practices would take place in even worse circumstances.

The Commission accepts that inadequate slaughterhouse capacity in certain urban areas of France is a contributory factor. Simply put, the Muslim population is overwhelmingly urban while slaughterhouse capacity is overwhelmingly located in rural areas. The Commission is in favour of finding a practical solution for the problem concerning slaughterhouse capacity.

The Commission does not accept, however, that a distinction should be made between the problems resulting from the lack of slaughterhouse capacity and those problems related to the way animals are treated during restraint and killing. I have formally requested the French authorities, therefore, to address the unacceptable shortcomings in the treatment of the animals during restraining and slaughtering.

This year’s festival is fast approaching. It can be an occasion for further displays of quite unacceptable slaughtering practices. Or, alternatively, it can be an opportunity to put right the mistakes of the past. The Commission will be following events closely and will be taking the appropriate follow-up measures if there is no improvement.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I have taken a lot of your time. But this subject deserves much attention and intensive discussions. I am looking forward, therefore, to your views on how to take forward the issue of animal welfare at the Community level.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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