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Animal Welfare takes ground at the World Trade Organisation

Factory farming is not only very detrimental to the welfare of farmed animals, but it is also a prominent obstacle on our way to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Favouring extensive farming systems which are more sustainable through trade policy would contribute to reaching SDGs, with the additional potential benefit of delivering higher welfare for farmed animals.

Eurogroup for Animals believes that higher animal welfare acts as a conduit towards more sustainable agricultural systems and therefore should be promoted through trade policy. For a long time, many observers had assessed that, under WTO rules, trade could not be restricted based on animal welfare. Yet, since the EC-Seals case, they have been proven wrong. Eurogroup for Animals raised the topic at a workshop co-organised with four other NGOs at the WTO Public Forum.

Animal Welfare should be addressed at the WTO. This is not a new demand from animal protection NGOs, but in the light of the challenges increasingly faced by humanity – such as climate change and antimicrobial resistance – it is high time for animal welfare to be better addressed in trade policy. “The spread of factory farming strongly undermines the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals”, says Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Officer at Compassion in World Farming, at the opening  of the workshop co-organised by Eurogroup for Animals, HSI, CIWF, RSPCA and WAN, on 4 october at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Public Forum.

The event, which gathered government officials, civil society, academics and business, was a major opportunity to create discussions around animal welfare in a forum where, even if very relevant, it is too often disregarded.

Professor Robert Howse speaking at the event highlighted that “Since the EC-Seal case, it is evident that countries may adopt trade restrictions based on anti-cruelty concerns, both to protect the animals and to express moral censure of these practices”. In addition, more recent cases, like US-Tuna II, have shown openness towards labelling practices based on animal welfare criteria.

According to Stephanie Noël, a Geneva-based trade lawyer, a measure based on animal welfare standards, or on another non-product related process and production method (NPR-PPM), does not intrinsically infringe WTO agreements. She stressed “It has to be judged on a case-by-case basis, and exceptions, such as public morals, should only be referred to if a prima facie violation of WTO rules has been found”.  

At the moment, rather than fighting in courts, the EU has chosen to create more convergence at the global level by using cooperation mechanisms. “We prefer to work with other trade partners rather than resort to measures – that could be challenged. We believe this will be more effective in the long term” explains Paolo Garzotti, the EU’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the WTO.

With 2030 approaching, countries need to focus on completing the UN SDGs, and with industrial agriculture thriving, we are not on the right path. “Industrial animal agriculture not only results in poor animal welfare but also will put several of the SDGs out of reach” says Stevenson. “Its dependence on feeding human-edible crops to animals undermines food security; its demand for cereals as animal feed has fueled the intensification of crop production which has led to biodiversity loss, soil degradation and water pollution. Major changes are needed if food production and consumption are to meet the SDGs and treat animals as sentient beings.

Farm animal welfare is a very strong public value in the EU as shown in the recent Eurobarometer. Additionally. we are convinced the EU has to seize the momentum created by the rise of global challenges such as climate change and antimicrobial resistance to promote more strongly higher animal welfare standards worldwide. Animal Welfare is a key concern for EU citizens and the Commission should use its trade policy, notably conditional liberalisation (which is the granting of preferential market access to products respecting standards equivalent to those applied in the EU) as an incentive for foreign producers.

We are glad that the European Commission has confirmed they were considering how to use such a tool in current trade negotiations, but the EU should not hesitate anymore. Over 90% of EU citizens want imported products to respect EU-equivalent standards and foreign producers seem to see this imposition as a win-win thanks to the new markets that open to them.  It is time for the EU to get bolder on animal welfare and trade.

CONTACTS:

Stephanie Ghislain, Trade & Animal Welfare Project Leader , s.ghislain@eurogroupforanimals.org

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