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Trade rules threaten efforts to improve welfare for farm animals
GLOBAL PRODUCTION OF FARM ANIMALS
Due to increasing demands for cheaper meat and dairy products, the farming of animals across the world has increasingly intensified. In many cases intensive practices of animal production first developed within the European Union and other western countries are now widespread across much of the Asia. There is much pressure on farmers to provide more produce at a lower price often without considering the impact on farm animals’ welfare if this process leads to further intensification. This is increasingly apparent across Asia with the adoption of many intensive farming practices developed within the Western world.
Globally some 60 billion animals are slaughtered for food annually while a further 5 billion hens are reared for egg laying.
WTO RULES AND TRADE LIBERERALISATION
The WTO was established in 1995 to help administer free trade between countries. Current WTO rules make it difficult for countries to implement animal welfare improvements as these can be interpreted as being discriminating towards other countries.
WTO rules currently prohibit countries from distinguishing between products on the basis of the way in which they have been produced. This means that animal products imported for sale in Europe do not have to meet European standards for animal welfare.
This does not stop a European country banning cruel methods of animal production within its own borders but under current rules the same country can not prohibit the import of the same products reared under lower standards of welfare in another country, this therefore acts as a powerful disincentive to improve welfare standards.
If European countries want to raise standards of animal welfare production then Europe must also work to protect European farmers and higher welfare standards from the influx of cheaper imports from countries which do not meet those standards.
Animals Asia have written the following letter to the European Commissioner for Trade calling for the Commission to seek changes to WTO rules with specific reference to the forthcoming ban on battery egg production across the EU from 2012 and the subsequent problems that the rules may cause as cheaper ‘battery eggs’ and egg products are imported into the EU from non-EU countries with lower welfare standards.
Mrs. Catherine Ashton
European Commissioner for Trade
Rue de la Loi, 200
B - 1049 - Brussels
Dear Commissioner Ashton
Due to increasing demands for cheaper meat and dairy products, the farming of animals across the world has increasingly intensified. There is much pressure on farmers to provide more produce at a lower price often without considering the impact on farm animals’ welfare leading to further intensification. This is increasingly apparent across Asia with the adoption of many intensive farming practices developed within the Western world.
Animals Asia is delighted to see the continuing animal welfare improvements adopted within the EU. In particular the adoption of the EU Animal Welfare Action Plan and the forthcoming 2012 ban on battery cages across the EU, amongst others.
Trade liberalization rules within the WTO might make it difficult for the EU to maintain these standards of animal welfare and introduce further improvements. Animals Asia are concerned that these trade rules may lead to the import of the same products produced at lower welfare standards in non-EU countries. This is of particular concern with the forthcoming ban on battery egg production.
Animals Asia call upon the EU Commission to address the following issues and seek the suggested changes within WTO rules:
A revision of the current position with regards ‘Process and Production Methods’ to allow members to make PPM distinctions in marketing and import regulations. At present a WTO member can prohibit the marketing of domestically produced battery eggs, but cannot extend that marketing ban to imported battery eggs which, under GATT rules, are seen as being no different from free-range eggs. To prevent abuse, the ability to make PPM distinctions could be made subject to certain provisos.
Changes to Article XX to include ‘animal welfare’ in paragraph (b) to make it clear that it is permissible for WTO members to adopt measures aimed at protecting the welfare of animals.
Revise current WTO rules to include animal welfare payments in the Green Box scheme therefore providing financial assistance to farmers that adopt higher welfare standards.
Revise current WTO rules to include flexibility for ‘sensitive products’ such as products that are vulnerable to cheaper imports produced at lower welfare standards. Where such products are produced to stricter welfare rules in the EU than within non-EU countries, WTO members should be able to ensure fair competition between domestic and imported products by applying smaller tariff reductions to imports produced to lower welfare standards than those that apply to domestic farmers. For example we ask for an inclusion of eggs and egg products in the list of ‘sensitive’ products within trade agreements.
In addition Animals Asia calls upon the EU Commission to:
Adopt mandatory labeling of production methods to all foods of animal origin both produced in the EU and imported products. In the case of eggs the EU Commission is required to extend current labeling regulations to require eggs and egg packs imported into the EU to be labeled with the farming method and to extend labeling to include farming method on all products containing egg products from both EU produced and imported food.
Provide financial assistance in the form of grants to help EU egg farmers to convert from cage to non-cage systems.
Provide trade-related assistance to developing countries to develop higher standards of animal welfare and offer lower tariffs for welfare friendly products.
Animals Asia would like the EU to continue to adopt significant welfare improvements in farm animal production, transport and slaughter techniques and we believe that through these improvements the EU and NGO’s will be able to facilitate further improvements to welfare standards in non-EU countries.