EU Moves Toward New Rules on Animal Welfare

28 April 2010

The EU is starting to consider new rules on animal welfare that could have significant impacts on its trading partners.

The European Commissioner for health and consumer affairs, John Dalli of Malta, who took up his post in February, told The New York Times in an interview this week that he plans to introduce draft legislation to eliminate loopholes that allow some cosmetics companies to test their products on animals. He hopes to forbid such products from being sold in Europe unless the companies halt the testing before the end of 2012, he said.

More broadly, Dalli intends to propose new legislation on animal welfare "by early 2012" in the hope that the reforms could be implemented in conjunction with changes to European farm policy that will take effect after 2013, the commissioner said in a speech in Ireland earlier this month.

"Our EU animal health legislation is now a vast body of legal texts - some 60 basic acts on trade, disease control, animal identification and so forth. The new law will simplify the current complex legal structure by replacing it with a streamlined framework," Dalli told a conference on animal health on 12 April.

The European Commission has already held public consultations to gauge citizens' thoughts on reforming the EU's animal welfare laws. The more than 150 submissions that have been received have made it clear "that a high level of animal health remains essential," Dalli said.

The European Union has long been known for its stringent health and safety standards for food and other products. Dalli hinted that he sympathises with such an approach.

"Careful analysis and consideration of convergence [with international standards] is necessary - but the EU should retain a higher level of protection of public health and animal health where this is justified," he said in his speech.

In The New York Times interview, Dalli also signalled that the EU has no plans to lift bans on imports of US chicken that has been washed with chlorine or imports of US beef that has been treated with hormones. The two embargos have long irritated US exporters.

But Dalli does not always toe the traditionally strict European line on all of the issues that fall under his authority. He caused some eyebrows to raise in March - just a month after he took up his post - when his office approved the use of a genetically modified potato in Europe (for industrial purposes only, however).

"I do not believe in telling consumers what they should eat or buy, but I firmly believe we have a duty to let them know what they are eating or buying," Dalli told the Irish conference.

ICTSD reporting; "EU push on animal welfare may open new trade front with US," THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 April 2010.

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