Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health and Consumer Policy
Speech at cross-border stakeholder event: "All island animal health and welfare strategy"
Speech at cross-border stakeholder event: All island animal health and welfare strategy organised by the Irish Ministry of Agriculture
Cavan, Ireland, 12 April 2010
Ministers, Chief Veterinary Officers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I appreciate this invitation to speak at this regional, cross-border event for animal health and welfare. I thoroughly support such initiatives as they provide valuable input to our work at EU level, especially when they involve key stakeholders from business operators, as is the case today.
Local expertise and cooperation are essential for better implementation, application and enforcement of European rules. Local initiatives can on the other hand clearly benefit from an EU perspective. This way we collectively enhance our knowledge of the relevant issues and can ensure synergies to the benefit of all.
Today we have the opportunity to reflect on the evolution of EU Animal Health and Welfare Policy and on the future Animal Health Law. We will review recent achievements; describe current European actions; and set out some future ambitions as regards the broad issue of animal health and welfare.
As many of you will know, the Commission published a Communication on a new Animal Health Strategy in 2007 under the banner headline of "Prevention is better than cure."
The Strategy was followed in September 2008 by the adoption of an Action Plan, with 31 specific actions grouped under four pillars:
Prioritisation of EU intervention;
A modern EU animal health framework;
Improving prevention and crisis preparedness; and
Science, Innovation and Research.
Most of the actions are in progress and some are already bearing fruit. This includes:
how to prioritise future EU animal health interventions;
how to reap fully the benefits of scientific and technological advances; and
how to assist vets and farmers, also in third countries, to combat animal diseases.
We are also exploring possibilities for non-legislative initiatives, promoting a higher level of responsibility and awareness of diseases amongst producers, and for more effective participation of stakeholders in the decision making process.
Plus, we have introduced the idea of EU Veterinary Weeks to promote animal health. We also promote the theme of "One Health" to emphasise that animal health affects human health and vice versa.
As regards the legal framework of the Strategy, I plan to propose an important new element next year – the EU Animal Health Law.
One important aspect for future consideration is how the EU should move from a position of financing losses of disease outbreaks to one of financing prevention. This requires a culture change to consider outlays for prevention programmes as an investment to save much heavier expenditure to combat disease outbreaks. We should also consider how the financing of such programmes is to be shared fairly between the principal players (farmers, Member States and the EU institutions).
I therefore intend to come forward with a legislative proposal on the review of spending in the veterinary field by early 2012. I hope that this proposal will be adopted in time for the post-2013 decision on agri-financial arrangements.
Before we go any further, it is important to recognise that the existing EU animal health legislation has served its purpose well.
Gradual harmonisation of EU animal health measures and systems for disease surveillance, diagnosis and control has progressively replaced many national regulations.
Animal health is clearly an area where EU added-value has been proven time after time. In fact we have achieved a fully harmonised legal framework ensuring a single European market for live animals and animal products.
Both Ireland and Northern Ireland have drawn great benefit from this, as evidenced by the high trade flow in animals and their products to other EU Member States.
One of the objectives of the new law will be to shift the emphasis towards a more proactive approach, especially on the prevention of animal diseases and the reduction of their impacts.
Our EU animal health legislation is now a vast body of legal texts – some 60 basic acts on trade, disease control, animal identification and so forth.
The new law will simplify the current complex legal structure by replacing it with a streamlined framework.
And in addition to simplification, it will also address some other fundamental issues, for example:
clarification of responsibilities of the main actors such as animal keepers and business operators;
better disease prevention and on-farm biosecurity; and
flexibility to adapt to new or changing circumstances.
An important challenge is how to codify in legislation the ambitious goals of our Strategy, without introducing unnecessary burdens or barriers. It is important to have a holistic view of the cost and benefit of the rules that exist in this sector, and for this purpose we are currently planning an analysis that will help us understand the impact of regulation and to define our objectives of the future within the boundaries of our values and our competitiveness and our international commitments.
Because we DO have to bear in mind the relationship between EU rules and international rules. Our EU legislation is largely in line with the recommendations and standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), but some of our rules go further.
Careful analysis and consideration of convergence is necessary – but the EU should retain a higher level of protection of public health and animal health where this is justified.
In order to ensure that our new Animal Health Law responds to the many expectations, the Commission launched a wide stakeholder consultation, via a public interactive tool on the Internet.
The consultation finished in early January. We received more than 150 submissions from all over the EU, from stakeholders, authorities, non-governmental organisations and business operators – including from Ireland and the UK. The responses are now being analysed.
It is, however, already clear that a high level of animal health remains essential towards meeting key expectations of European citizens, and to ensure that meat and animal products are safe.
This safety is, of course, underpinned by the control and eradication of major animal diseases.
The implementation of enhanced biosecurity measures, surveillance schemes and trade facilitation should help narrow the gap between the current intra-EU rules and national rules for the movement of live animals.
In this context, and knowing the development of your cross-border strategy, your initiative is very much in line with our thinking.
Enhanced cooperation, such as that between Ireland and Northern Ireland, to achieve a high animal health status is one of the key objectives of our Strategy. This would also help boost your marketing potential.
A good example in this regard is the latest achievement in the area of Aujeszky disease control in Ireland. As I speak, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health is voting on a Commission proposal to recognise Ireland as having a higher status than before, which would bring it to the same level as Northern Ireland.
Needless to say, such a system must be equally available to all countries and regions that wish to participate – and should not depend on geographic particularities.
While I understand that the geographical isolation of this island will help to achieve a high animal health status in the framework of your strategy, I would like to make two important points:
First, in this age of increased and indeed global movements of people and goods with the consequent increase of risks related to illegal movements and illegal trade, an island is not any more protected from cross-border pathogens, as it perhaps might have been in the past.
Second, intra-EU trade rules should apply equally in all Member States.
The picture would not be complete without mentioning an important tool to assist us in our efforts to combat animal diseases – animal identification, and especially electronic identification, and the concept of traceability along the food chain in general.
I am aware that the EU rules in this area are viewed by some as burdensome and bureaucratic. But the rules are established for a single market of 27 Member States and are one of key elements for this market to function, in particular in relation to trade in live animals.
I must say that I have come to understand the various issues and challenges that are faced by those responsible to implement the established rules, because of differing physical landscapes and terrains as well as operating scales. I will be seeking advice on how to keep reviewing our methods to incorporate on the ground experience while not jeopardising our ultimate objectives.
We should be glad, of course, that BSE and foot and mouth are not currently in the headlines.
In fact, work is ongoing for a new BSE road map on how we could review the EU measures for the better, while ensuring the highest level of food safety.
This possibility is also due to the traceability systems we put in place over the last decade. Proper identification and traceability of animals are key components towards ensuring a high standard of animal health throughout the EU.
We all recognise that when a disease outbreak occurs, EU rules facilitate the tracing of potentially infected animals to limit the spread of disease. In addition, EU rules allow us to trace and follow food or feed through all stages of production and distribution, boosting consumer confidence.
We also have in place traceability rules applying to third countries exporting to the EU aimed at ensuring that imported products, such as meat, do not pose risks for the EU.
I would encourage the farming industry to ensure full implementation of the EU requirements on animal identification and traceability as this is clearly beneficial to the industry.
You can benefit from the existing financial instruments provided for in the EU legal framework on rural development policy, and you should also take into account the on-farm benefits that this technology is able to provide.
As part of the Veterinary Week 2010, we are organising a conference in Brussels on 14 and 15 June, with the participation of, and presentations by, many stakeholders, amongst them farmers and producers.
The theme for this year will be "Identification and traceability along the food chain."
There we plan to discuss these elements and many others in detail, including possibilities to reduce burdens, such as voluntary electronic identification for bovine animals.
I hope that many of you can attend and thus learn from good examples and best practices.
Turning now to animal welfare, I place a strong emphasis on "putting consumers first". And animal welfare issues clearly have a very strong consumer theme running through them.
Animal welfare is a sensitive issue which raises strong emotions amongst citizens. It is not just a matter of ethical considerations – animal welfare is fundamentally linked to broader societal goals, enhancing quality of life both for humans and animals.
The conclusions of the first Community Action Plan on Animal Welfare 2006-2010 are due later this year.
Now is the right time to prepare for a new strategy that will embrace, in a holistic manner, EU animal welfare policies for the next five years.
An evaluation of our current policies is ongoing. And particular attention will be given to evaluating data on the costs of providing high standards of animal welfare.
Raising awareness of EU animal welfare activities amongst citizens is also important.
This is in line with one of the policy themes I used before the European Parliament – I do not believe in telling consumers what they should eat or buy, but I firmly believe we have a duty to let them know what they are eating or buying.
Last October, the Commission adopted a report in which a range of issues concerning animal welfare labelling and the possible establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals were presented.
Previous discussions on this issue have led to broad agreement that animal welfare could be a “trademark” to sell the “European model” and could offer parallel benefits for both consumers and producers.
Scientific support is essential towards innovative and transparent policies. In recent years, science has evolved rapidly – enriching our knowledge on animal needs and proper farming practices.
This means that we continually need to review and update such practices. A European approach would constitute the most flexible and dynamic response to this challenge.
Before closing, I would like to give an update on the often contentious issue of the protection of animals during transport, on which the Commission is obliged to present a report.
Before taking any further legislative initiative on this issue, it is essential to establish the clear state of play of the situation.
The report is expected by the second half of 2011 and will collect evidence on the scientific, social and economic dimensions of the issue, as well as on enforcement of the current EU rules.
Here I would again highlight that proper implementation and enforcement of the current rules is of utmost importance.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as you will have gathered, there is currently a great deal of EU activity in the fields of both animal health and welfare.
I am confident that all these efforts will prove worthwhile –ultimately resulting in an improved framework at Community level for veterinary authorities and animal keepers to prevent diseases, and ensure high standards for animals and consumers at a level which also boosts competitiveness.
Reading through your strategy, I recognise many initiatives which point in similar directions. I am also sure that your representatives will be keen to tell us of your experiences.
But for now, I wish you all the best for the implementation of your strategy and would like to express my wholehearted support for any such initiative that brings us further down the road together, in partnership.