A new EU welfare strategy that recognises high animal welfare standards in the UK could allow producers to compete on a more level playing field.
The Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2012-2015 proposes an information campaign to educate consumers about the high standards of animal welfare in Europe – something which could be introduced in to trade agreements to protect EU farmers.
The strategy also proposes the introduction of science-based animal welfare indicators, a European network of reference centres and common rules for staff handling animals.
The calls by the European Commission to introduce welfare components has been welcomed by the NFU.
Dawn Howard, NFU Brussels, said: “Clearly it is madness for UK farmers to have to produce to high welfare standards for consumers to then pick cheaper imports from outside the EU with lower welfare standards.
“If imported food is not produced to our high standards then there must be adequate country of origin labelling to allow the consumer to make an informed choice,” she said.
One of the main themes is also the development of a simpler EU legislative framework for animal welfare, something Ms Howard of NFU Brussels welcomed.
“However, it is important the introduction of ‘science-based’ welfare indicators does not carry an extra cost burden for our UK farmers,” she added.
In a statement, RSPCA’s director of communication, David Bowles, believed the proposal did not go far enough.
“No reference is made as to how the commission will overcome the huge challenges to enforce EU-wide bans on intensive systems.
“If the EU really wants to make a difference to animal welfare in the EU in the next five years it needs a strategy that deals with all animals, and ensures laws are effective and not just pieces of paper.”