Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Ben Bradshaw MP, Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  Thank you for your Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 2 February 2006 which Sub-Committee D (Environment and Agriculture) considered at its meeting on 8 March 2006.

  We are concerned that the Commission's agenda to improve welfare standards in the agricultural industry does not take full account of standards in the international export market. The objective of improving welfare standards within the EU could be undermined by the continued import of chickens produced more cheaply in third countries due to less stringent welfare conditions being imposed. The Committee recognises the potential welfare benefit that could be achieved from adoption of the proposal, but wishes to ensure that third countries which supply chickens to the EU are required to meet similar production standards.

  What assurance can be provided to EU consumers that chickens imported from third countries have been reared under welfare standard conditions equal to those proposed by the Commission? What monitoring takes place of conditions in third countries and what sanctions are imposed if standards are found to be failing?

  We note that this proposal is due to be considered at Council in May, but given these concerns the Committee decided to retain the proposal under scrutiny at this stage.

16 March 2006

Letter from Ben Bradshaw MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 16 March in which you highlight the concerns of the Sub Committee D (following consideration of Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum 9606/05 of 2 February), that any improvements in EU animal welfare standards could be undermined by imports produced more cheaply from third countries due to less stringent welfare conditions.

  You ask in particular whether EU consumers can be provided with assurances that chicken imported from third countries has been reared under welfare conditions equal to those proposed by the Commission; details of monitoring of welfare standards in third countries; and sanctions imposed if standards are found to be failing.

  There can be no absolute assurances given to consumers. Rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) do not allow member countries to ban imports of products which are essentially the same as domestic products apart from in the method by which they have been produced—these are known as "like products" in WTO terms. Discrimination against these products would be a restriction on trade, not allowed under the agreed exceptions to WTO rules, unless the lower welfare standards practised in the exporting country gave rise to safety concerns under Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. However, the EU will continue to press for the acceptance at WTO level of animal welfare as a non-trade concern in agricultural trade.

  However Member States and the Commission recognise that increasing the welfare standards in the EU in a manner that merely exports the welfare problem to other centres of production is not consistent with either a sustainable European farming industry or the need for consumers to be appropriately informed on the food they eat.

  The Commission's recently published Community Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2006-10 notes that there is a risk that demanding animal welfare standards in some countries may lead to activities being re-located to countries applying lower standards, or that such countries could be at an unfair competitive advantage. There is limited international consensus on the relative importance accorded to animal welfare and the measures in place in the EU cannot be readily compared with the standards in Third Countries. The Plan ackowledges that a monitoring instrument is required to compare compulsory animal welfare standards applied in the EU with those applied in third countries in order to analyse any possible market effects.

  One of the five areas of action identified in the plan is "to continue and initiate further international initiatives to raise awareness and create a greater consensus on animal welfare, including engaging with developing countries to explore trade opportunities based on welfare friendly production systems".

  The EU continues to actively participate in various international fora as a means of increasing awareness and building consensus in the importance of animal welfare. The EU is party or observer to several of the Council of Europe Conventions aimed at improving the welfare of animals. The EU also supports the work of the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health). It is well placed to build international consensus on the issues of animal welfare and has developed a detailed animal welfare vision and strategy. In May 2002 a specific resolution was adopted which mandates the OIE to elaborate science-based recommendations and standards on animal welfare. Recent achievements include the organisation of the first OIE Global Conference on Animal Welfare and adoption of principles and guidelines on animal welfare.

  A key issue for a Commission Communication of 2002 on animal welfare legislation in third countries and the implications for the EU (COM (2002) 626 final), was whether competitive disadvantages arose from disparities in animal welfare measures. The report investigated a number of channels to prevent such a development including, market mechanisms, dialogue at international level, promotion of animal welfare standards in trade arrangements and improvement of labelling regimes.

  In respect of the meat chicken proposal, the Commission suggests that further clarification and investigations are needed on the possible socio/economic and trade/legal implications of a mandatory labelling scheme, notably with regard to compatibility with WTO rules, Technical Barriers to Trade etc. The Commission will submit a detailed report to the Council on this issue having undertaken a comprehensive analysis of the considerations in question. This is re-inforced through the Commission's Action Plan which states that options for EU labelling will be explored in a systematic manner. In addition, the Plan acknowledges that improved marketing, labelling and communication strategies will need to be developed and analysed to ensure that consumers are able to make more informed purchasing decisions.

  I hope this re-assures your members that the EU is committed to enabling consumers to make well informed purchasing decisions in respect of animal welfare and that it is pro-active in raising awareness of animal welfare standards on the international front.

23 May 2006

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