Trade in animal products must be reduced to prevent further biodiversity loss


Trade in animal products must be reduced to prevent further biodiversity loss

11 February 2021
A study confirms our global food system, shaped by decades of increased meat production and market liberalisation, is the primary driver of biodiversity loss.

Behind species disappearing, it confirms the need for the EU to shift from unconditional liberalisation to animal welfare-based conditional liberalisation in animal products in FTAs.

A study published by Chatham House last week revealed the role of our current food system as the principal driver for biodiversity loss. Biodiversity loss is not only about species disappearing, it is also a matter of animals suffering. Rampant deforestation, fueled by the need to produce animal feed for intensive farms, is also a source of many welfare-related concerns. With the increase in wildfires, animals - wildlife, but also pets - are suffering and many do not manage to escape. For the surviving wild animals, many are displaced and will generally suffer from starvation and social disruption.

The report shows how decades of incentives to increase food production at minimal costs (resulting in the spread of intensive farming) have resulted in a decline of 14% of world species, with a major responsibility borne by the meat sector. Such findings confirm our argument that the EU should restrict access to its market to animal products that are compliant with standards applied in the EU, notably on animal welfare.

Allowing or favouring access to the EU market only for animal food associated with EU-equivalent animal welfare standards would enable the EU to decrease “low quality” meat production (which has proved to have the highest impact on biodiversity, due to the intensive exploitation of lands), thus preventing further biodiversity loss abroad. Such a conditional approach is also likely to incentivise producers willing to export to the EU to improve their animal welfare standards to match EU ones, which are often higher. Reduced flows in low-standards food products will also decrease the exposure of consumers to poor quality meat and dairy. Considering that the “low cost” food industry often relies on the overuse of antibiotics in animal production, fuelling antimicrobial resistance, which is recognised as “one of the biggest threats to human health” by the WHO, transitioning to higher welfare livestock farming could in turn contribute to higher human health.

Further findings of the study show that the “cheap food” industry, which is dependent upon intensive farming practices, produces more food than needed per capita, with one third of the global food produced wasted - including meat. This reinforces our concern that FTAs, in their current form, not only increase trade in animal products, fuelling the spread of intensive farming , but also aggravate global waste in animal food by introducing more animals than needed to cycle through the production system.

Overall, the lack of a conditional criteria imposed on animal food imports within FTAs not only causes more animal suffering by boosting trade flows in animal products often produced with poor standards, but also drives the elimination of many species around the globe. While the study rightly highlights the need to move away from the current logic underpinning our food system (i.e. “produce more food at lower cost to drive economic growth”), the EU has already started to recognise this by embedding a strong environmental and animal welfare dimension in its most recent food policy strategy, Farm to Fork. It must now reconcile its trade and “green” objectives, by introducing an obligation of animal welfare compliance for food imports within FTAs, which would, in turn, contribute to prevent further biodiversity loss.