EUROPE
EU ministers step up fight against animal transport ban

A coalition of EU agriculture ministers have joined forces to push back against a potential ban on live animal transport to third countries, but the Commission stressed the need to be ambitious on animal welfare. 

During the first agriculture council of the year on Monday (30 January) – the first under the Swedish presidency – animal welfare was a key topic of discussion for EU ministers.

In 2022, the EU executive evaluated the current EU animal welfare legislation concluding that its overhaul is actually needed, and a proposal is expected in the second half of 2023.

Meanwhile, on the back of a series of recent high-profile incidents of livestock being stranded at sea, the EU executive is also preparing, under the existing legal framework, some implementing and delegated acts to improve official controls on livestock vessels, expected to be adopted at the end of 2023.

The idea of banning live animal exports outside EU borders has been floated as part of this discussion – but this has proved a bone of contention amongst member states, nine of which grouped together to push back against such a move.

For the Portuguese minister Maria do Céu Antunes, who led the coalition, the revision’s goal should be ensuring “high levels of animal welfare in intra-community trade and in the export of live animals” rather than a total ban.

The minister noted that as animal transport is one of the “most visible parts of animal production”, it “attracts attention and the concerns of our public”.

Other ministers followed suit, stressing that the primary focus of the revision should be on the conditions in which live animals are being transported to third countries rather than banning these.

“This is a very sensitive issue for our livestock sector, as well as for other peripheral countries of the EU,” said Spanish agriculture minister Luis Planas, while his French counterpart, Marc Fesneau, added that a ban on animal exports “would cause upheaval in the production chain.”

However, Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, stood her ground, stressing that, in light of scientific evidence, “doing nothing is not an option.”

“If science and experience tell us that certain practices in transport are detrimental to the welfare of animals, you would agree with me that we must consider ways of adjusting those practices,” she said.

Other member states, including Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, backed this position.

“We cannot just keep watching animals die painfully on the road or suffer unnecessarily,” said German minister Cem Özdemir at the doorsteps of the council.

“We in Germany have done our homework when it comes to transports to countries outside the EU,” he stressed, “but to make sure national rules cannot be bypassed, we need to urgently find common rules in Europe.”

In November, Germany took measures to restrict live animal transport to third countries as much as possible on a national level and announced the withdrawal of veterinary certificates for cattle, sheep and goats by mid-2023.

Since a complete ban can only be put in place by the EU, Özdemir called for the whole bloc to follow Germany’s lead.

However, Özdemir also expressed concerns that “the proposal could fall by the wayside in the context of the upcoming EU elections.”

A growing number of voices are calling on the Commission to ‘not give in’ to pressure from agriculture ministers.

The Animal Welfare Intergroup of the European Parliament addressed a letter to Commissioner Kyriakides ahead of the council meeting, stressing that it is not possible to ensure that animal welfare standards are respected beyond EU borders.

“You have the opportunity to set the basis for a revised transport regulation that both meets animal needs and contributes to building a sustainable Europe,” the letter concludes.

NGOs also slammed the Portugal-led position for defending the ‘status quo’ and prolonging the suffering of millions of animals.

“Many EU farm ministers could care less and continue to protect the interests of the status quo, prolonging the unnecessary suffering of animals. What a shame,” Olga Kikou, head of Compassion in World Farming EU, said.

The current EU legislation on the protection of animals during transport entered into force in 2005.

In October 2022, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a scientific opinion stating that animal transportation times should be reduced to improve the welfare of farmed animals during transport and the risk of spreading antimicrobial resistance.

[Edited Natasha Foote/Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

Source: Euractiv.com

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