Now Euro-welfare standards is aim of government
By Tony McDougal
GOVERNMENT is to attempt to set up a European committee on farm animal welfare in a bid to secure common standards across the EU.
Junior farm minister Elliot Morley said it would be one of MAFFs top priorities during the UK presidency of the EU Council, which begins in January.
At present, the UK is alone in having an independent farm animal advisory committee, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and the government is keen to identify common standards and practices across the EU to avoid wasting limited resources through duplication of research and development work.
Sir Colin Spedding, FAWC chairman, said other member states had very different systems to the UK. "In Belgium, they have an animal welfare council which covers everything but has attracted little finance, while in France it is left to civil servants to monitor welfare."
He hoped that the EU Commission would fund a meeting in Brussels next spring to launch the pan-European committee, which would advise governments and would take animal welfare out of the political arena. That was important because welfare had "very much become a political football," Sir Colin said.
But he was conscious that the scheme must not seem to be dominated by the UK, which is still struggling to regain friends in Europe after the BSE crisis.
The move won backing from both the NFU and RSPCA. Brian Jennings, chairman of the NFUs animal health and welfare committee, said FAWC had enabled the UKs farming industry to make positive moves forward in the field of animal welfare. "It would be a major step forward to have a European FAWC committee set up," he added.
Julie Wrathall, RSPCA scientific officer, said the increasing number of quality assurance and traceability schemes in the UK were having an effect on other European countries, which were worried that retailers might soon reject imports.
Dr Wrathall said the Danes were very interested in the UKs pig assurance schemes and realised that they would have to move towards higher welfare standards in the near future.
Mr Morley acknowledged the role played by British consumers in helping raise farm animal standards, and said the Danes were worried by the successful introduction of the UKs FABPIGS quality assurance scheme. "Their pig industry is watching what is happening over here like a hawk. If the Danish industry thinks it will lose its market share, it will move."