Animal Transport Still On Agenda In Brussels

21 March 2012
"Better information and enforcement of current rules the key"
SNP Member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee Alyn Smith has today discussed in Committee a draft report on animal transport across the EU.  The Wojciechowski Report is, in Alyn's view, a well-balanced stock take of the existing legislation across the EU, and while it does suggest further consideration of whether the Parliament should legislate to enforce an 8 hour limit on journey to slaughter, the focus is very much upon better enforcement of the existing rules.
 
In the debate, Alyn said:
 
"President, thank you, I'll declare an interest as the Honorary President of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  I'll balance out some of the criticism our Rapporteur has received today by praising him on striking a very delicate balance: I'm striking a pretty delicate balance myself - we've had a number of dynamic discussions in our Group on this dossier too!
 
"I think we can agree on a number of points - it is easier to transport meat than animals.  We should encourage local food production and consumption.  We should seek to avoid transporting animals large distance, not just from a welfare perspective but also because shipping animals large distances increases disease risk.  We can also agree that a large and vocal number of our citizens want to see action on this: we've all received the emails and seen the campaigns.
 
"However, that is all background.  It is up to us as legislators to weigh up, on the basis of facts, what is in the best interests of the public.  We need to decide if changes are desirable, and what the implications, in all senses, of those changes could be.
 
"I'd congratulate our Rapporteur on his focus on the lack of information about how the status quo is working.  The problem with EU rules of this sort is that the member states are responsible for enforcing them, and it is clear that some are better at it than others.  Similarly, I share his concern that it is regrettable that the Commission could not conduct any impact assessments into what impact any likely tightening of the regulations would have on meat prices.
 
"I'd take issue with some colleagues who have claimed this report could lead to more red tape and bureaucracy.  I disagree.  As legislators it is not our job to just pass legislation and move on - we need to keep an eye on it to ensure it actually works.  In this case, I think there is clear evidence that it is not, and it is surely incumbent upon us to consider how better to enforce the existing rules, with a tougher regime if need be, before we think of new rules.
 
"So I strongly back the emphasis on better information and better enforcement, and agree that the Commission should focus on this area too.  I know from very helpful discussions with Commission officials that this is indeed their priority, so so far so good.  And I agree in Paragraph 5 that we need better information from the Commission on the cost implications of tougher sanctions.
 
"But I think we also need to be realistic about the conflict any potential moves to limit journey times could have on our rural economy as a whole.  I'm very drawn to the excellent Mrs Paulsen's [Swedish Liberal MEP] vision of a network of small slaughterhouses, encouraging local slaughter and processing.  Done right, this would be good for rural development, for the local economy and local food production and consumption and there is, indeed, the possibility that we could look at Pillar 2 support for them.  But we must also take due note of the conflict this would bring with existing rules, especially on state aids, given that smaller slaughterhouses with less throughput are less economic, not least because other rules on meat hygiene and animal welfare at slaughter actively encourage bigger facilities.  Similarly, would the local slaughterhouse become a de facto monopoly?  There are real implications to this, and I'm not convinced we have thought this through sufficiently.  I can point to a number of small slaughterhouses in Scotland that have had to close under the legislative and economic burdens: this is a real consideration.  Equally, if we exempt slaughterhouses from state aid rules, how much money would this cost and would we even have support across the wider Parliament to do it?  Would it be a good use of public money?
 
"And so I turn to the campaigns for an 8 hour limit on journey times to slaughter.  I think the Rapporteur has, in Paragraph 9, found a good form of words in that he merely refers to the need for further consideration of it, and even then under specific exemptions for geographic conditions, which, of course, would be hotly negotiated.
 
"I'm open to that discussion, and I think we need to keep the prospect of legislation on the table to give an urgency to those discussions.  I am, though, concerned that the 8 hour limit is too "one size fits all" to be realistic.  Why only on animals going to slaughter?  Why not all animal transport?  Why 8 hours?  Surely 8 hours in baking heat is different to 8 hours in cool, comfortable temperatures?  Should time on a boat - a real issue for our islands in Scotland - be counted in the same way as time on the road?  Why 8 hours for all animals, when some react differently to transport than others?  As I say, I'm open to the discussion but I do not see that the problems which could be created by such a move have been sufficiently thought through, nor do I think that there are sufficient facts in this discussion. If the prospect of well-meaning legislation had the net effect of shutting down meat production in big chunks of Scotland and the EU as a whole then that would be bad for our consumers, bad for our rural communities and bad for our environment too.
 
"As it stands, I think the wording in the Report is sufficient to encourage a serious discussion of the issues, open to the potential for new rules but sensitive to the need for realistic legislation, so I cautiously support the Rapporteur.
 
"Of course, we will bring forward some amendments to this, but very much in the constructive spirit in which our Rapporteur has engaged so far.  Thank you."