Last chance to embed animal welfare in the EU-Australia trade agreement
Improving animal welfare is strongly linked with the pursuit of sustainable food systems. However, current trade policies appear to be exacerbating rather than mitigating the adverse consequences of intensive livestock farming. This is the case with Australian beef exports, where 96% of exports to the EU originate from animals held in grain-fed feedlots; yarded areas that adversely impact animal health and welfare by causing respiratory and digestive issues, and contribute to increased water, soil and air pollution in Australia.
According to the EU’s own impact assessment, a trade agreement with Australia that grants expanded market access for Australian beef without attaching any animal welfare conditions would further incentivise beef production predominantly in feedlots. This would undermine the EU’s ongoing sustainable food systems transition. It is crucial for both parties to establish conditions for preferential tariffs on beef that originates from grass-fed systems, explicitly excluding beef produced within commercial feedlots, as the EU did with New Zealand.
Australia’s current rules on transporting live animals over long distances are minimal and virtually unenforceable, allowing animals to travel for up to 48 hours without food or water. Introducing a condition related to the protection of animals during transport in trade preferences related to ruminant meat would thus also have a positive impact.
Trade negotiations should reflect the importance of phasing out cruel practices such as sheep mulesing. Sheep mulesing is a procedure that causes significant pain and suffering to animals. We urge the EU and Australia to work together towards a phase-out and adopt alternatives, more humane practices.
This trade agreement is also an opportunity to set up strong cooperation mechanisms to tackle other topics such as the lack of use of pain relief during procedures. Australian law does not require mandatory use of pain relief for shocking surgical procedures such as tail docking, dehorning and castration. It will be important to also use such a platform to share best practices and combine efforts to phase out live animal exports, especially since Australia has committed to phasing out its live sheep export trade and the EU is currently revising its legislation on the protection of animals during transport.
The EU and Australia together represent 473 million citizens, many of whom believe more should be done to improve the life of farm and wild animals. According to a 2018 report, 9 out 10 Australians are concerned about the welfare of farmed animals, and nearly as much want a reform to address this.
In Europe, animal welfare is a great ethical concern. Seven out of the ten successful European Citizens Initiatives (ECI) have been dedicated to animal welfare issues. The recent support for the ECI End the Cage Age paves the way for both sides to cooperate as Australia has pledged to phase out the production of battery eggs by 2036.
We also urge the EU and Australia to address the large-scale, inhumane killing of kangaroos for commercial use. The EU is the main market for Australian kangaroo meat and leather, an industry which raises concerns about animal welfare, conservation and public health. Both parties must consider prohibiting the trade of kangaroo-based products primarily on ethical grounds. The EU and Australia both have a responsibility to solve this; in a recent survey, 67% of Australians stated that other countries should have a responsibility not to drive the commercial killing of kangaroos.
It is possible to strike a balance between economic interests and our shared commitment to ensuring the welfare of animals. We call upon political leaders of the EU and Australia to stand firm on their commitment to develop and safeguard high animal welfare standards.