Animal welfare and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement

22 April 2013    
Agnès Le Brun (PPE)


As a member of the World Trade Organisation, the European Union is part of a broad movement to open up markets. Even though the agricultural sector is one in which very little progress has been made in negotiations, the common agricultural policy (CAP) is drawn up, as far as possible, according to these principles.

While the European Union can protect its market from imported foodstuffs that do not meet the safety criteria that it has laid down thanks to the agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary measures, it cannot do anything to oppose competition from products that do not comply with the same animal welfare standards.

European livestock farming is thus subject to unfair competition from third countries, and the WTO prevents the EU from protecting it.

1. Does the Commission have any figures which can be used to assess the impact of these distortions of competition on the competiveness of European farms?

2. Does the Commission take account of this situation when it makes legislative proposals on animal welfare?

3. Does the Commission plan to take action, internally or within the WTO, to put an end to this unfair competition, which is seriously damaging the economic well-being of certain sectors? If so, can it say what this action is?

1 July 2013    
Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission

Following the WTO agreements and a series of bilateral agreements, EU exports of agro-food products have constantly increased. Consistent market-oriented reforms of the CAP have helped enhancing the competitiveness. The EU fully respects its WTO commitments under the Agreement on Agriculture.

Legislation in the EU is subject to broad consultations with stakeholders and other institutions where EU's competitiveness is one of the elements taken into consideration.

Agro-food products which enter the EU market have to comply with requirements set by EU legislation which concern the safety of food products and animal and plant health.

The EU has been able to obtain guarantees that as regards animal welfare in slaughterhouses exporting meat to the EU the certification requires that the animals have been handled in compliances with Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing(1) and have met requirements at least equivalent to those laid down in EC law.

Furthermore, on the basis of a request from the European Parliament, a study assessing farmers' costs of compliance with EU legislation in the fields of environment, animal welfare and food safety will conclude in December 2013.

The EU will continue the cooperation on animal welfare with EU's trading partners in the appropriate international fora. Furthermore, cooperation on animal welfare is systematically included in negotiations related to bilateral trade agreements with third countries.

(1)    OJ L 303, 18.11.2009, p. 1‐30.