Why the EU-Mercosur agreement is bad news for European animals

Photo: Eduardo Amorim

The EU and Mercosur – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay – are close to concluding their trade agreement after 20 years of negotiations, but from an animal welfare perspective, the text on the table is extremely worrying.

Additional liberalisation in many key animal-based products such as beef and chicken will not include the condition to better respect animal welfare standards, putting European producers under pressure. Moreover,  the wording on animal welfare cooperation is too weak to ensure any concrete progress for animals in the absence of strong political willingness in Mercosur countries.

“The European Union, where one out of seven citizens listed animal welfare as a priority for the future, and which portrays itself as a leader in the fight against climate change, cannot consider an agreement to exchange beef for cars with no proper mechanism to ensure no further harm to animals and the environment as a landmark achievement,” says Reineke Hameleers, director of Eurogroup for Animals. “As such, Eurogroup for Animals calls on the European Commission not to conclude any agreement with Mercosur without introducing conditional liberalization on animal products based on relevant EU animal welfare legislation and stronger provisions on animal welfare cooperation, including the objective to see Mercosur aligning its regulations with the EU’s.” 

Mercosur, where 55 million bovines and 6.6 billion chickens are transported and slaughtered each year to produce meat, is the EU’s first source of meat imports. In 2018, despite the trade restrictions that followed scandals in the Brazilian poultry industry, imports from the Latin American block still represented 43% of all EU meat imports (358,972 tonnes). The texts currently under discussion by both sides intend to facilitate this trade even further, so the agreement is significant for animals, not only in the EU but also in Mercosur countries. 

Eurogroup for Animals is concerned about the consequences of granting Mercosur countries further preferential access to the European beef and chicken market. For the past 9 years, the EU has seen no improvement on farm animal welfare, no new rules, and no adaptations to existing ones according to current research findings.  Not only that, but the implementation of existing rules has been furiously lacking. 

At fault is the increase in trade liberalisation with no condition related to respecting animal welfare standards equivalent to those applied in the EU. Lower welfare imports put pressure on local producers, and in turn they put pressure on authorities not to regulate further, creating a chilling effect on animal welfare legislation. In addition, producers also have more incentive to increase live exports to third countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Algeria, and Israel, where after harrowing journeys the animals are slaughtered in patent violation even of the basic OIE standards. 

The animal welfare standards respected in those industries are also very important: according to the 2016 Eurobarometer on animal welfare, more than 90% of EU consumers want to see imported products respect animal welfare standards equivalent to those applied in the EU. 

Animal farming in Mercosur countries is often portrayed as idyllic, with producers peddling images of animals happily grazing in extensive pastures. Driven by an intensification of the livestock sector, this image has become less and less common. Even when the production remains extensive, there is more to farm animal welfare than space and density. Handling, transport, provision of shelter and use of antimicrobials are often poor. Specific binding regulations are mostly missing to ensure the implementation of sufficient standards at farm level and on the roads. 

In addition, certain Mercosur countries have been carrying out policies that encourage the development of national “champions” in the meat sector. Economic incentives created by the trade agreement would only add to the trend towards more production in intensified systems. Beef production in Mercosur countries have also been linked to deforestation in the Amazon, the Chaco and the Cerrado. Producers destroy essential forests not only to create pastures and pens around slaughterhouses but also to grow soy for animal feed. To date, no mechanism is in place to ensure no meat imported into the EU is linked to the destruction of our planet. 

“Animal welfare provisions in the trade agreement that are envisaged will not compensate such negative impact on the animals. While the EU had at first proposed stronger language, including a regulatory alignment objective, it seems the text has been watered down and only refers to reaching a common understanding on animal welfare matters,” says Reineke Hameleers. “While these soft provisions will create an opportunity to engage with Mercosur countries, they do not provide a sufficiently strong framework to ensure progress will be made for animals, especially as opposed interests govern now in Brazil. Nor will they mitigate the disruption created on the European market and the indirect pressure put on European animal welfare standards.”

The European Commission is also sending the wrong signal by offering to liberalise horsemeat imports within four years. While we recognize the original tariff on the product was low and that such liberalisation is unlikely to have great impact on trade volume, the message is wrong. The horsemeat industries in Uruguay and Argentina have been flagged as a source of concern by the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office, and NGO investigations have documented violations of EU requirements regarding welfare at the time of killing. In addition, 5 to 10% of the horses slaughtered in Uruguay and Argentina are mares that were exploited on blood farms, where they suffered terrible conditions. 

Contact:
Stephanie Ghislain, Trade & Animal Welfare Project leader
+32 (0)2 740 08 96 | s.ghislain@eurogroupforanimals.org

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