Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

Brexit: EP says no full access for Great Britain if animal welfare is not protected

Photo: Taylor Ruecker

Last Wednesday, the European Parliament adopted its resolution commenting on the EU’s mandate for the coming EU-UK trade negotiations, reminding the Commission of the importance of ensuring a level playing field when it comes to animal welfare standards.

On 3 February, the European Commission published a draft negotiating mandate for the EU-UK negotiations. The text is currently being discussed by Member States, but, as has been the practice since the initial EU-US negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the European Parliament also debated the text. They’ve now adopted a resolution providing comments on the draft mandate. 

The draft mandate only contained a call to “promote continued cooperation and exchanges on animal welfare”, which is far from the level playing field that Eurogroup for Animals has been calling for. Indeed, we believe the Commission and British government should strive to ensure a tariff-free/quota-free trade in animal-based products between the EU and Great Britain, but also that this can only happen if the level playing field is ensured for animal welfare standards – and the EP agrees. 

While the initial draft resolution was vague, stating only that agrifood imports from Great Britain should respect EU rules on animal welfare, the final text is much bolder. Indeed, as most EU animal welfare standards do not apply to imported products, one can rightly argue that lower welfare products enter the EU market in perfect compliance with EU rules. 

The amendment adopted by the European Parliament – with a large majority – which stresses the importance of level playing field in animal welfare is thus welcome. It means that to benefit from full access to the EU market, products from Great Britain should remain compliant with all animal welfare standards applied in the EU. 

The second section of the amendment, adopted with a smaller majority, even calls on the European Commission to exclude “the possibility of EU imports of live animals, meat and eggs that are not compliant with EU animal welfare standards”, which would be unprecedented in EU trade policy.

Eurogroup for Animals commends this strong position adopted by the European Parliament, underlining the importance of animal welfare to EU citizens, and calls for the Member States and the European Commission to amend the mandate accordingly.

Contact:
Stephanie Ghislain, Trade and Animal Welfare Programme Leader
s.ghislain@eurogroupforanimals.org

Please follow and like us:
Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

Investigation into fate of cattle and unweaned calves reconfirms urgent need to revise EU law

Photo credits: Animal Welfare Foundation / Animals International

Investigations have once again uncovered violations that inflict unnecessary suffering on animals being transported alive, despite after the entry into force of the EU Transport Regulation.

Animals International (AI) and the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) have revealed the fate of 30 breeding cattle that left Bavaria and ended up in Libya as “animals for slaughter” – despite the fact that Germany claims not to export live animals for slaughter purposes. Their footage was presented yesterday in the documentary Tiertransporte grenzenlos (“Animal transports without borders”) on ZDF by Manfred Karremann. 

The film also reports the fate of unweaned, 15-day-old calves sent to a collection point in Belgium. From there, without receiving the rest period imposed by the EU Transport Regulation, they were transported to Spain. Eight months later, Animals International identified three of these calves in a Lebanese slaughterhouse.

This investigation is again another wake up call for the Commission to revise the legislation and introduce a maximum journey time of eight hours and end the transportation of unweaned animals, among other changes. 

Germany, which exported about 70,000 cattle to non-EU countries in 2018, has restrictions in place to control this trade. Bavaria has banned the export of cattle to 17 non-EU countries, and Germany claims not to export animals for slaughter. Despite this, evidence collected in recent years shows that exporters have long been exploiting a loophole: the detour of animal transports through other EU member states, which is made possible by the fact that journeys are currently allowed to be more than eight hours long. As reported by Gabriel Paun (AI), animals with German ear tags are regularly found in North Africa or Middle East abattoirs. 

In the case of the 30 Bavarian breeding cattle, the veterinary office in Miesbach issued the transport documents on 16th May 2019, indicating an agricultural business in the village of Divin (Slovakia) as the destination. AWF/TSB reports that at the address indicated in the journey log, there wasn’t any farm. Instead, the truck reached a collection point in Lieskovec, 35km away from Divin, where the cattle received new transport documents in which their status had changed from “breeding” to “slaughter” animals. 

After a few hours, without the 48 hours rest prescribed by the EU Transport Regulation (EU Reg. 1/2005), they re-started their journey exhausted. After 2,100km they reached Tarragona in Spain, where they were loaded into a vessel bound for a Libyan slaughterhouse.

It’s clear that exporters are also disregarding the law when it comes to transporting unweaned animals. In 2018 alone, Germany exported about 650,000 suckling calves, with a high proportion transported long distances to Spain directly or indirectly via assembly centers in other EU Member States. This was despite the Federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner declaring that there were no suitable vehicles to transport these animals over long distances. 

The evidence collected by Animals International and Animal Welfare Foundation is a clear signal that the Transport Regulation urgently needs to be revised to forbid the long-distance transport of live animals and stop the transport of the unweaned ones,” said Reineke Hameleers, CEO at Eurogroup for Animals. “The case of the German cattle and unweaned calves proves once more that, despite good initiatives taken at national level, violations will continue to occur as long as animals are allowed to be transported on journeys of more than 8 hours.”

Watch the video here.

Contact: 

Francesca Porta
Programme Officer Farm Animals at Eurogroup for Animals
f.porta@eurogroupforanimals.org

Please follow and like us:
Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

The European Parliament is standing up for pets – the Commission must follow

Photo: Vier Pfoten

On 12 February the European Parliament, with 97% of votes in favour, called on the European Commission to establish a mandatory EU system for registration of cats and dogs, better regulating online sales and improved law enforcement, declaring its firm opposition of the illegal pet trade. 

With 607 votes in favour out of a total of 629 voters, the Members of the European Parliament supported a resolution to protect cats and dogs, as well as the EU’s internal market and consumer rights, against the illegal trade in companion animals. Eurogroup for Animals is convinced that with a number of the proposed measures, it will be possible to make the EU’s cross-border pet trade safer for animals and consumers alike. 

Firstly, the implementation of EU wide identification and registration for cats and dogs would ensure the full traceability of traded animals. With the powers granted by the Animal Health Law we must see a delegated act before 2023 to tackle this problem. 

Secondly, there should be supervision for suppliers of animals. As most trade across the EU happens online, we must see a move towards improved verification systems for traders and sellers under the upcoming Digital Services Act. 

Finally, in order to secure the welfare of traded pets the European Commission must build on the recommendations of the EU Platform on Animal Welfare regarding breeding, commercial transport and online sale of cats and dogs.

The large majority of pets from illegal sources are sold online, and their lucrative trade across the EU is often disguised as the non-commercial movement of pets. Not only that, but these cats and dogs often do not comply with the established health requirements. They are often too young to have been vaccinated, or are accompanied by fraudulent passports giving false information about their origins. Eurogroup for Animals’  members are being asked to rescue many of these animals and call on the European Commission to introduce structural solutions to the problem of illegal pet trade.   

This illegal EU-wide trade, facilitated by digital tools, is a threat not just to the welfare of the animals involved but also to animal and public health and EU consumers. It is crucial that improvements are made to the current control mechanisms.

“Many consumers are unaware of the EU-wide illegal pet trade, and are often pushed to make an immediate purchase. We also tend to trust internet platforms and consider online advertisements reliable. That makes us, the consumers, and the pets vulnerable,” stated Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals. “The EU has a key role to play in better regulating the Europe wide trade of pet animals. We are calling for Commissioner Kyriakides to take this problem and citizens’ concerns very seriously and  use legislative opportunities under this term to bring illegal pet trade to an end.” 

Contact:
Iwona Mertin, Programme Leader, Companion Animals
Tel: +32 (0) 2 207 77 13
i.mertin@eurogroupforanimals.org

Please follow and like us:
Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

European Parliament calls for EU and Vietnam to work on animal welfare

Photo: Ted’s photos

Today the European Parliament approved the free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and Vietnam. 

While Eurogroup for Animals welcomes the call made by the EP to “make full use of [the animal welfare provisions]” in the agreement, their language remains weak, and the agreement may open the way to an increase of imports of lower animal welfare products, including fish, crustaceans and animal skins. 

Not only that, but Vietnam has a bad reputation when it comes to wildlife trade and trafficking, slaughter of animals and other cruel practises such as bile bears. 

The agreement plans a thorough liberalisation for animal products, with barely any protection left, notably for fish and chicken. However, these preferences are not attached to any condition related to respecting animal welfare standards equivalent to those applied in the EU. Even if Vietnam doesn’t export a significant volume of animal products to the EU at the moment, the agreement might change the trade flows, and these imports with lower standards could increase the pressure on the higher standards of Europe. 

Internally, Vietnam has recently seen an increase in meat consumption and production, notably in pork, beef and chicken. It is also a global leader in aquaculture. To date, legislation on animal welfare is almost nonexistent in the country, and while smaller producers used to care for their animals, this is changing with the trend towards increased industrialisation. 

Vietnam’s aquaculture sector should be one of the EU’s priorities when working with the country on new animal welfare standards. The industry, which exported around 72,211 tonnes of catfish (including pangasius) and another 2,820 tonnes of tilapia to the EU in 2018, is known for exceptionally high stocking densities, one of the highest rates of antimicrobial resistance, and poor transport and handling practices. By reducing stress and allowing for more robust fish, higher fish welfare standards can help reduce the use of antibiotics to a bare minimum, positively impacting the animals, the environment and public health. 

The coronavirus has reinforced the urgency to tackle international illegal wildlife trade, as, in addition to being one of the key causes for species extinctions, it increases the risk of zoonotic diseases spreading. Vietnam is known to be at the centre of the world’s wildlife trafficking, with networks based there driving the global trade in elephant, pangolin, tiger and rhino parts. 

The EU-Vietnam FTA commits the parties to implement appropriate effective measures to reduce wildlife trafficking but the agreement is silent on the welfare of wild animals. While these provisions can be described as strong compared to other EU FTAs, they remain aspirational, especially in the absence of effective enforcement mechanisms. Achieving a positive outcome for animals, again, entirely depends on adequate resources and political willingness.

“The provisions on animal welfare and on sustainable development included in the EU-Vietnam FTA were designed in 2015. They don’t match our expectations for modern trade deals, in line with the challenges of our times and with the objectives of the European Green Deal,” says Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals. “Now that this agreement is in place, Eurogroup for Animals calls on the EU to follow the advice of the Parliament and to ensure an impactful implementation of all provisions related to animal protection and to review the TSD chapter in view of improving its enforceability.”

Contact:

Stephanie Ghislain –  Trade & Animal Welfare Programme Leader
s.ghislain@eurogroupforanimals.org

Please follow and like us:
Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

EC reports show more work is needed to reduce the use and suffering of animals in science

Reports released today by the European Commission show that the fast progress towards humane, animal-free research that citizens expect is not being made. 

Not only that, but many Member States need to make significant improvements in the way they are implementing and enforcing the requirements of Directive 2010/63/EU on the use of animals in science.

The EC’s reports looked at the implementation of Directive 2010/63, as well as at the numbers of animals that were used in science in the Member States in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The data – provided by the Member States themselves – show that almost 10 million animals were used in basic and applied research, testing, and education across the EU every year, with more than one million procedures (around 11% of the total) involving a level of animal suffering reported as ‘severe’. 

These ten million procedures don’t even include all of the animals involved in the research process. The reports highlight that an additional 12.6 million animals are also bred for the purpose – and ultimately killed – without being subjected to an experiment. This means that each year in the EU, a staggering 22 million animals are impacted by scientific research. 

“A key promise of Directive 2010/63 was to deliver important results towards the full replacement of animals in research, testing and education. However, today’s reports vividly illustrate how far the EU is from making inroads towards a meaningful transition to non-animal science,” said Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals. “While we welcome the progress that many Member States have made towards implementing the requirements of the Directive, others appear to still have much work to do if they are going to live up to these values.

The recent scandal of an animal testing facility in Germany shows that it is imperative that Member States invest in regular and robust unannounced inspections of animal facilities. The report states that as many as five Member States are not undertaking any unannounced inspections, while nine appear to not even be inspecting the required minimum of a third of establishments per year.

The area of project evaluation is a key pillar for helping to deliver the objectives of the Directive. However, at the moment, the very different solutions that each Member State adopted to evaluate and authorize animal-based projects raises concerns as to the independence and integrity of these processes.

Eurogroup for Animals will be paying close attention to the Commission’s first Thematic Reviews under this Directive. They have the potential to make a significant contribution towards phasing out the use of animals, and need to lead to concrete actions to reduce the number and suffering of animals in laboratories. Today’s reports, along with the stark difference in funding for scientific projects that involve the use of animals compared with those that aim towards their replacement, vividly illustrate how far the EU is from achieving meaningful milestones to significantly reduce the number of animals.

“These reports demonstrate clearly why we need the European Commission and Member States to develop a concrete strategy to phase out the use of animals in education, testing, and research that should provide a vision and milestones on how to effectively deliver on the Directive’s goals,” added Reineke Hameleers.

Please follow and like us:
Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

Highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 hits several Member States – but killing millions of birds won’t solve the problem

Photo credits: The Brewers

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8 is once again spreading across the EU, with the most recent outbreaks notified by Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Czechia. 

Those Member States will now apply the measures foreseen by Directive 2005/94/EC, which include the killing of all birds on affected farms and the establishment of protection, surveillance and restricted zones to contain the spreading of the virus. 

Every year on the occasion of outbreaks of HPAI, tens of millions of domestic poultry are killed and farmers are compensated for their losses. However, the situation never seems to improve, which is why HPAI has now become a ‘structural emergency’ in the poultry sector. 

Today, Eurogroup for Animals has released a new position paper on this topic. One of the main risk factors for HPAI outbreaks and for the mutation of LPAI (low pathogenic) strains into HPAI strains is the intensive and spatially concentrated poultry production in the EU. This production model is characterised by high stocking densities and genetically identical birds, which are perfect incubators for HPAI. 

We are calling for a rethinking of this predominantly intensive and spatially concentrated poultry production in favour of a more diversified sector. More funding should be made available into finding into cost-effective alternatives that can prevent the killing of millions of birds every year. 

We also express our concern for the way in which the animals are killed for depopulation purposes during HPAI outbreaks, which may lead to unnecessary suffering for millions of birds. Better biosecurity measures remain essential to reduce the risk of contamination and should be systematically adopted by the sector as a matter of priority. 

Read our position paper

CONTACTS:

Elena Nalon – Veterinary Advisor Farm Animals, Eurogroup for Animals
e.nalon@eurogroupforanimals.org

Please follow and like us:
Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

Germany grasps the nettle: labelling matters

Photo: Nicolas Castez

An EU-level animal welfare labelling scheme that would inform consumers about the welfare of animals during food production was proposed by Germany at yesterday’s AGRIFISH Council meeting.

Whilst the precise standards of any such label were not fleshed out, Eurogroup for Animals welcomes this acknowledgement that any effort to make the EU’s agricultural sector truly sustainable, which includes animal welfare, has to go hand-in-hand with consumer empowerment.  

We welcome the courage of the German Minister in grasping this particular nettle. How to link higher welfare practices, support for farmers and empower consumers has long been a bone of contention. As a result, the debate has been avoided for too long,” said Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals. “In line with citizens’ expectations, any EU labelling scheme should enable farmers to transition towards truly higher welfare systems whilst providing consumers with transparent information. Method of production labelling on meat and dairy products would be the ultimate approach to achieve these goals.”

The German proposal is also timely. As Europe’s farming systems have to change to meet the challenges posed by climate change, and the Commission considers how best to do this through its Green Deal, we need to ensure that higher animal welfare is a key indicator of sustainability. 

Method of production labelling not only allows consumers to choose products that are higher welfare, but it also allows for choice based on the type of farming system used. Moreover, it has already proven successful for farmers, consumers, and animals wherever it has been employed.

“We are clear, though, that any such system ultimately has to be mandatory. Voluntary labelling only ever captures a small segment of the market, and could lead to confusion if this exists alongside a range of other voluntary, subjective standards,” added Reineke Hameleers. “However, credit to Minister Klöckner for putting this issue on the table. Eurogroup for Animals stands ready to provide our input to the debate in the coming weeks and months.”

Almost all the Member States called for a study by the Commission to assess the feasibility of such a labelling scheme. Commissioner Kyriakydes suggested that such a study could be part of the evaluation of the Animal Welfare Strategy or the upcoming Farm-to-Fork Strategy.  

As an association that has several member organisations with their own animal welfare labels, Eurogroup for Animals sees the German proposal as a way of starting a conversation at EU level on how consumers can best be informed, and is well placed to advise on what works and what does not.

Please follow and like us:
Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

One small step from the Commission, or one giant leap for animal welfare? – new Animal Welfare Unit on the way

Photo: Rikki’s Refuge

According to Politico, the European Commission is poised to establish a new animal welfare unit this March as part of a restructuring of its department on Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE).

Eurogroup for Animals welcomes the news, which comes as DG SANTE embarks on a reorganisation so that it can lead on the Commission’s Farm-to-Fork Strategy, which is the agricultural and food policy component of the new von der Leyen Commission’s European Green Deal

Such a unit existed previously, but was merged with a much larger team dealing with animal health under the previous Juncker Commission. 

“This is welcome news indeed, and bodes well for a prominent role for animal welfare actions within the Commission’s Farm-to-Fork Strategy. After all, animal welfare must be an integral component of any transition to a sustainable form of agriculture,” said Reineke Hameleers, Director at Eurogroup for Animals. Citizens, MEPs and Member States have all now called for stronger animal welfare provisions at EU level, and Eurogroup for Animals wholeheartedly commends the von der Leyen Commission for this development.” 

Since they took office six weeks ago, we have heard several encouraging statements on animal welfare, and now we are seeing the first signs of action.

“Of course, what any unit is tasked with doing is even more important than its creation. The list of actions that it could be tasked with is very long indeed, and it will need to be adequately resourced too,” added Reineke Hameleers. “Only when we know this will we be able to sufficiently judge whether this development amounts to one small step from the Commission, or one giant leap for animal welfare.” 

Please follow and like us:
Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

EP’s Resolution on Green Deal asks for better animal welfare

Photo: Thomas Bonometti

Last week, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution to spell out what it wants to see from the European Commission in the coming term. Parliament was unanimous about the parts of the Resolution that concern animal welfare, showing a consensus between political groups for more action for animals in line with the desires of EU citizens.

The European Green Deal, a package of measures that forms the centrepiece of the Commission’s work and aims to make the EU the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, particularly affects animal welfare. Of particular relevance are its Farm-to-Fork Strategy and the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, as well as the many areas in which Trade is discussed.

The Farm-to-Fork Strategy focuses squarely on how food is produced. In relation to this, the European Parliament wants to see producers rewarded for supplying high-quality food that also delivers ‘public goods’ such as higher animal welfare standards, and improved food labelling in terms of environment and animal welfare. The Resolution also highlights the potential of sustainable practices – such as increased animal welfare – in helping to reduce emissions, and includes a call to integrate fisheries in the strategy. It also stresses the importance of raising existing animal welfare standards and developing new ones where relevant, and of starting infringement procedures against non-compliant Member States. 

This ties in with our own recommendations for the Farm-to-Fork Strategy, which suggest that it addresses animal welfare through improvement of existing legislation and its enforcement. We want to see specific targets and indicators for livestock agriculture and aquaculture to not only improve animal welfare but also increase the production of plants for human consumption, and to reduce dairy and meat. Our last main ask for this strategy is that higher welfare livestock farming  goes hand in hand with circular agriculture concepts.

On the subject of 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, the Resolution includes a call for a fully integrated, strengthened Action Plan against wildlife trafficking. It stresses that wildlife trafficking and the illegal wildlife trade are major drivers of biodiversity loss, and calls on the Commission to launch infringement procedures against Member States who do not respect nature protection legislation. This echoes Eurogroup for Animals’ reaction to the published EC roadmap for the strategy, noting that it misses clear commitment to address wildlife trafficking and the unsustainable wildlife trade. We would also like to be assured that for seized and confiscated wildlife, funds will be allocated at the EU level and made available to Member States to ensure support is provided to rescue facilities.

The Resolution stresses that trade can be an important tool to promote sustainable development and fight climate change, and calls for all international agreements to include strong, binding and enforceable sustainable development chapters. While it  fails to also mention the potentially negative impact trade can have, the Resolution does, however, welcome the intention of the European Commission to ensure that “all […] food […] on the European market fully complies with relevant EU regulations and standards”. Eurogroup for Animals insists that this means all relevant animal welfare standards too.

“The EP’s Resolution reflects many of our demands in terms of animal welfare and sustainability, so we’re happy to see that they are playing an important role in bringing citizens’ pleas to the Commission,” says Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals. “We’ll be paying close attention to see if the animal welfare asks of the Parliament and the citizens, as well as our recommendations, are encompassed when the Commission drafts their legal proposals.”

The Commission will now come up with legislative proposals for the Biodiversity Strategy in March and for the Farm-to-Fork Strategy in spring of this year. 

CONTACT:
Joe Moran, Senior Political Adviser – j.moran@eurogroupforanimals.org

Please follow and like us:
Categorieën
Eurogroup for Animals Natuur, Milieu en Dieren Nieuwsbericht

EFSA concludes conventional rabbit cages have worst welfare score

Photo credit: ©Essere Animali

Today the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published three scientific opinions on the welfare of rabbits kept in the EU for meat consumption. The conclusions show the need for the European Commission to use this scientific evidence to enact long overdue legislation for rabbits and end caged systems. At the same time, the opinions demonstrate the urgent need for better training of staff during stunning and slaughter of rabbits.  

Rabbits are the second most farmed species in the EU in terms of numbers, but there is no species-specific legislation protecting their welfare in the EU. EFSA assessed and compared the welfare of rabbits in different production systems – organic, outdoor, floor pens, elevated pens, enriched cages and conventional cages – and concluded that conventional cages have the worst overall welfare impact score. The overall welfare impact scores suggest that animal welfare in organic systems, on the other hand, is generally good. EFSA’s Opinion includes recommendations to improve the welfare of these animals in all the systems currently available in the EU. To facilitate the assessment of the welfare of rabbits kept in different systems it also recommends standardizing the use of validated welfare assessment protocols suitable for on-farm use throughout the EU. 

Secondly, in response to two mandates, one from the European Parliament and one from the European Commission, EFSA also assessed the welfare problems like to occur in rabbits during slaughter and killing operations. In its Scientific Opinion ‘Stunning methods and slaughter of rabbits for human consumption’, the Authority identified ten welfare consequences resulting from 32 hazards that rabbits can be exposed to before and during slaughter (i.e. during pre-stunning, stunning and bleeding). These are consciousness, not being dead, thermal stress, prolonged thirst, prolonged hunger, restriction of movements, pain, fear, distress, and respiratory distress. 25 out of 32 of the hazards originated from staff, with most being attributed either to a lack of appropriate skills or to fatigue. 

EFSA concluded that the preparedness and performance of staff also plays a crucial role in the case of on‐farm killing for purposes other than slaughter, such as disease control operations, and assessed this scenario in another dedicated Scientific Opinion. It identified 14 hazards which result in five welfare consequences: not being dead, consciousness, pain, fear and distress. Again, the staff were identified as the origin for all the hazards, either due to a lack of skills needed or due to the high kill rate that characterizes these operations and results in fatigue. 

For both these opinions EFSA linked the hazards, welfare consequences, animal-based measures, origins and preventive and corrective measures, and also proposed mitigation measures to minimize welfare consequences. In assessing preventive measures, the crucial role played by the staff was also acknowledged.

Please follow and like us: