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European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection

Animal Transport: Consultation of EP on Revision of Legislation

European Parliament Plenary Session

Strasbourg, 30 March 2004

President, Honourable Members,

May I first express my thanks for all the hard work that has been done by members of the Committees in respect of the Commission's proposal for a Regulation on the protection of animals during transport.

Let me acknowledge, in particular, the efforts made by Mr Maat on this important initiative.

Animal welfare is an emotive subject this is reflected by the wide participation in the debate so far, and in part by the large number of amendments tabled.

The Commission proposal aims to achieve significant improvement of the welfare of transported animals.

The proposal focuses in particular on long journeys, as it is these journeys that are most likely to cause problems. It seeks to introduce clearer and upgraded standards as well as stronger enforcement rules.

The Commission proposal has been the result of extensive analysis, scientific advice and stakeholder consultation.

I am sure that it does not fulfil the wishes of the ardent proponents of one or other side of the animal welfare debate.

But I am quite sure that, if introduced in the morning, it would implement major improvements in the transport conditions of animals that have been the dream of animal welfare enthusiasts for years.

I am equally sure that any amendment which either seeks to liberalise transport conditions or unduly restrict them is doomed to failure.

I have indicated that I am willing to participate in constructive dialogue with a view to reaching a speedy agreement and an early improvement of transport conditions.

One of the major political aspects of the dossier concerns travelling times. The Commission proposes to replace the current rules by a simple scheme for all species involving 9 hour maximum travelling time to be followed by a minimum of 12 hours rest if the journey is to be continued.

It is no accident that these times coincide with the travel and rest rules applicable to drivers hence enforcement should be much more straightforward.

I am prepared to consider variations on the theme proposed by the Commission in order to reach a durable compromise. However, let me be very frank, I cannot accept amendments which have as their practical effect a ban on the transport of live animals, whether for slaughter, further rearing or breeding purposes.

I believe that such a move would be illegal and ultra vires the Treaty. It would be liable to be struck down by the Court. At all events, there is no chance of such an initiative being supported in the Council.

This is why I have been suggesting the adoption of an intelligent and sophisticated approach to the improvement of animal welfare. Putting it quite bluntly, tilting at windmills will be poor consolation if the greatest opportunity, in a decade and for a decade, to improve welfare arrangements is not to be grasped.

President, Honourable Members,

Allow me to express the Commission's position in relation to the main points of concern.

On travelling times, the European Parliament wants to introduce a fixed limit of 9 hours for slaughter animals while allowing the others to travel with fewer restrictions.

As I said at the outset, we cannot adopt measures which would effectively ban a trade, particularly in circumstances where there is insufficient scientific information to support such a move.

In order to limit the transport of animals for slaughter, the European Parliament advocates the use of mobile slaughterhouses. At present there is not enough expertise or practical experience to support this solution and the animal welfare advantages have not been clearly demonstrated.

Regarding the scope of the Regulation, the European Parliament suggests a derogation for journeys of less than 100 kilometres, as well as for certain categories of animals such as animals transported for sporting events and shows.

The Commission could support retaining the current derogation for journeys of less than 50 km could be maintained but there is no reason to exclude from the scope of the Regulation other animals that are at risk of suffering poor standards of welfare.

The Commission supports the proposal to open the possibility for the Member States to adopt stricter national rules provided that they are compatible with the general rules of the Treaty. I am pleased that this would effectively maintain the UK's restriction on the export of horses destined for human consumption. I have consistently said that I would look at this matter with a view to supporting a legally sustainable text.

In relation to the authorisation of transporters and the pre-approval of vehicles, the European Parliament proposes to have a single system for short and long journeys.

One of the major objectives of the proposal is to focus checks on long journeys these are the most critical for the welfare of the animals. I believe that by removing the distinction between long and short journeys, the efforts of inspection and the administrative burdens would be diluted and animals transported over long journeys would not benefit from a higher degree of attention from the competent authorities.

The European Parliament suggests introducing the use of a satellite navigation system. This idea is most innovative and the Commission fully supports it in principle. However, we do not know yet the full implications of the use of this technology and I believe that it should be better to limit this requirement for long journeys.

I should add that the Commission proposal already includes a requirement to check the vehicles' tachograph as a new enforcement tool.

I have noted your proposal to systematically unload imported animals for 24 hours and to apply travel time limits on that part of the journey taking place outside the EU. Although I share your concern on the situation outside the EU, this measure is not compatible with the international obligations of the Community.

This issue should therefore be addressed by other means. In this context the Commission has been active in contributing to raising awareness on animal welfare at international level.

As regards sanctions, a number of amendments have been proposed. Most of the suggestions are already covered by the Commission proposal through a stricter system of authorisation for transporters. A number of other amendments on sanctions need to be examined with regard to their compatibility with the principle of proportionality.

A full listing of the Commission's position on each of the amendments is being made available to the Parliament. I trust that this will be included in the minutes of this session.

Thank you.

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