New Animal Welfare Standards Could Impact Trade

1 November 2012, at 1:28pm

GERMANY - The future of animal husbandry in Germany is under discussion and the Green party has made it a campaign issue for upcoming federal and state elections. The implementation of national standards prior to the EU-wide standards could hurt the competitiveness of German farmers. Beyond changing production conditions in Germany and Europe, there are calls to ensure that imported animal products also comply with European animal welfare standards.

An amendment to the German Animal Welfare Act being discussed in the Parliament (the Bundestag) would prohibit the castration of piglets without anesthesia starting in 2017. The amendment would also increase internal controls and record keeping by farmers. The proposed amendment is laying bare a broader discussion about the costs and benefits of additional animal welfare policies and the competitiveness of German farmers, who are often called upon to take the lead in new animal welfare practices not yet adopted in the EU or other countries. The amendment must be passed by both the Bundestag and the Federal Council before the legislation can come into effect.

Dr Helmut Born, General Secretary of the German Farmers Federation (DBV), spoke on 17 October, 2012 at a Bundestag public hearing on the proposed amendment to the Animal Welfare Act. He declared that animal welfare is very important for farmers not only for economic reasons but also for ethical and consumer acceptance reasons. Dr Born also acknowledged that animal welfare practices are changing and continue to develop. He highlighted business practices and certifications, such as the Quality and Safety (QS) or the milk quality management (QM), under which compliance with animal welfare regulations are already being overseen in Germany.

Dr Born reminded parliamentarians of the example of Germany’s prohibition on laying hen cages, which went into effect in 2010, two years before the law was to have been applied in other EU countries. This resulted in a drop in egg production and loss of jobs as cages were exported to EU countries with less rigorous implementation and eggs produced in those cages were imported into Germany. The failure of other EU members to implement the laying hen cage directives is a poignant and oft used political talking point by the Germany’s poultry industry.

Dr Born gave other examples of regulations, such as those on livestock density, light conditions, bedding areas, etc., where Germany applies stricter rules than other European countries. These lead to higher production cost, which disadvantage German livestock farmers.

Another example is new housing requirements for sows, which come into effect in the EU in 2013. The federal ministry of agriculture, food and consumer protection (BMELF) has confirmed that there will be no exceptions to the rule and that there is intensive work by the industry underway to comply with the transition period. Representatives of the German livestock industry fear that other countries will not fully comply with the new requirements, as was the case with laying hen cages.

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