Thursday, February 12, 2009

Europe seeks animal welfare standards in global trade agreements
By Janie Gabbett on 2/11/2009

Global animal rights groups pushed for animal welfare provisions to become part of every international trade negotiation at last month's Conference on Global Trade and Farm Animal Welfare in Brussels, Belgium.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association Chief Veterinarian Elizabeth Parker attended the meeting and shared her impressions with Meatingplace.

What did you hear at the conference that was new?

Animal welfare groups and some European Commission members want animal welfare standards to become part of every trade negotiation. Several European Commission-member parliamentarians spoke. They were very bold about what they wanted. They have problems within their member states because the cost of animal production in Europe has gotten so high due to non-science-based restrictions. The EU can import meat cheaper than they can raise it in Europe. So they are calling for equivalency. They have done this already in biotech and some other areas. I was interested in how open and upfront they are about it.

What are some examples of the types of welfare provisions they are looking to include in trade agreements?

There was a lot of talk about swine and chickens. For example, on the swine side, many European countries have banned castration or mandated anesthesia and pain medication. On the poultry side, there was a lot of talk about battery cages. The Humane Society of the United States was represented at the conference and made a presentation.

How do you see the United States stacking up against European countries on humane handling?

Our approach is quite different. We don't regulate our industry to death based on non-scientific standards. In Europe they base policies on public opinion through the use of the Eurobarometer surveys. We take good care of our animals. At NCBA we update our Beef Quality Assurance Program every year as new research emerges. We haven't been touting what we do because it is part of our everyday business practices. I think we need to do a better job of talking about what we do. The ultimate goal is to make sure we take care of our animals and produce safe and affordable beef supply and we do that. It is hard to see how the European regulations have improved animal handling.

Will you be making any recommendations to NCBA based on any best practices presented at the conference?

No. There was nothing scientifically based that was presented there. There was an interesting presentation from the [Food and Agriculture Organization] about the need to improve human conditions in developing countries so that they can improve conditions for their animals. From Europe, it was all animal rights groups. We can learn from what they are doing about what might be coming to this country — they pay 40 percent of their wages on food.

What do you see as the priority this year for meatpackers and producers in the area of animal welfare?

We need to do a better job of educating Congress, administrative officials and consumers about all the things we currently do, why we do them and how we developed them. People don't know the science that has gone into our policies. We have left a void for groups to come in and fill with misinformation. Our challenge is to educate. Link

If we want to know what is coming down the line as far as animal welfare and livestock production regulations, we need only look across the pond at Europe. They have continued to regulate the agriculture out of business. As a consequence, their food costs are four times as high as ours and they import about 40% of it. That will happen in this country if we continue down this path.

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