Most Animal welfare rules do not apply to imported products

Imported animal products escape most animal welfare rules that Eurogroup for Animals have worked so hard to get implemented in the EU. 

Standards around welfare at the time of slaughter are the only ones that are applied to imported products. For instance, an egg produced by putting hens in battery cages is still allowed to enter the EU market, while this practice is banned in the EU. The EU only looks at the last step in the ‘value’ chain: the slaughter of the animal and whatever happens before that, falls largely outside of the purview of EU legislation and enforcement mechanisms. 

This approach has an impact on animals, both in the EU and in the partner countries. Trade agreements aim to boost exchanges between countries. This often implies an increase in production and more animals used on farms or in laboratories. As the EU has relatively higher animal welfare standards, any move in animal production from the EU to another country also means more animals raised under lower animal welfare standards. There have been many cases in which more trade in animal products has fed unsustainable and inhumane productions; we only have to look at the poor conditions in which Ukraine produces eggs, egg products and chicken which are increasingly exported to the EU; the freezing conditions in which are kept horses used in Canada to produce meat for the EU; or the surge in cattle kept on feedlots in the Americas to produce cheaper beef for the EU.

Aside from the direct effects on animals, this approach to trade also impacts the level playing field in the trade system, as EU producers have to meet higher and sometimes more costly standards. This means that producers will try to block future progress on animal welfare, considering them unfair. In fact, we can already witness a ‘chilling’ effect of the EU’s current trade policy on EU animal welfare regulations, as no new farm animal welfare rules have been adopted in the past decade and enforcement has remained feeble. 

The EU’s decision not to apply most standards to imported animal products is also a missed opportunity to promote higher animal welfare in third countries. According to a study published by the European Commission, the conditionality linked to welfare at the time of slaughter has been the most impactful tool the EU has had, in the last decade, to promote animal welfare in other countries. Most foreign producers consider the lifting of standards, even if costly, a win-win as they gain access to the EU market.

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WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

93% of EU citizens consider that imported products should respect all animal welfare standards applied in the EU and 87% that the EU should do more to promote animal welfare at the global level. Conditioning access to the EU market to the respect of all relevant animal welfare standards applied in the EU would thus respond to concerns expressed by most EU citizens.

On the latest Eurobarometer on trade, ensuring the EU’s environmental and health standards are respected in trade policy ranked second as a priority, just after creating jobs (up from fifth rank in 2010), proving the growing concerns of EU citizens.

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

The only EU animal welfare legislation that applies to imports is the slaughter regulation. There are also several food safety regulations which benefit animal welfare that also apply to imports. This is the case of the ban on the use of chemical rinsing for meat and on the use of growth promotants, which will be extended to antibiotics used to promote growth and increase yield as of 2022. 

In trade policy, the EU generally does not condition trade preferences to the respect of higher welfare standards. The EU-Mercosur agreement might be the first one to contain such conditional trade preference, unfortunately only for shell eggs.