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Health and Consumer Protection

Press releases

Brussels, 30 January 2001

Outcome of the Agriculture Council, 29 January 2001

BSE and the beef market (GK/BG)

Mr Fischler updated his colleagues on the latest developments on the beef market. "The crisis on the beef market goes further than one might think. The latest market indications are alarming. Many third countries have banned EU beef, a considerable backlog of production that should normally have taken place in 2000, is carried over into 2001 and the reduction in consumption might be more than 10%. Up to now, we have seen an EU-wide drop in consumption of 27%. We have to expect a considerable surplus on the beef market, 795.000 tonnes in 2001, if we assume a 10% drop in consumption and full use of the purchase for destruction scheme (500.000 tonnes). Buying into public intervention only is no solution not only for budget restrictions but also for storage capacity limitation. If we do this, the farm expenditures would simply explode, which would lead to aid cuts in other agriculture sectors.", Mr Fischler warned. He called upon the Member States to make use of the purchase for destruction scheme.

"This is what the Council agreed in its meeting in December. The scheme is simply the lesser evil. It is cheaper, offers a solution to farmers who cannot sell their animals, it disposes of the lowest quality beef at the lowest price and hence reduces the surplus and it creates a minimum price on the market to the benefit of producers, as the positive price evolution in France and Ireland proves." Mr Fischler called for further measures to limit the EU beef production in the future. "In this context, together with the Member States we have to reflect on a possible set of measures, such as an early marketing premium for calves, or a reduction of the density condition for premia payments to boost extensive farming. The Commission will bring forward a wider ranging package of measures.", he stated.

Mr Fischler informed the ministers that the purchase for the destruction scheme has only started in France, Ireland and to a lesser extent, in Spain and Luxembourg. Finland and Sweden are exempted because of their low BSE-risk, the Netherlands and Denmark are exempted because full test capacity, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Greece have not yet started, Austria and Belgium have asked for an exemption. The United Kingdom has already an Over Thirty-Month Scheme (OTMS) in place. Mr Fischler told his colleagues that +/- 57.000 animals have been slaughtered for destruction so far, with France and Ireland accounting for 60% and 28% respectively.

The Commissioner also urged the Member States to notify all the measures taken on the national level. According to the state aid rules these additional aids have to be notified and approved by the Commission. He also announced that following the conclusion of the Nice Summit, the Commission will present a report on protein-rich crops which could replace meat and bone meal. "But I would like to remind you that our task is to examine this question in strict compliance with the financial perspective and our WTO-commitments.", he said.

In its conclusion the Council noted the Commission's request for Member States to implement the "purchase for destruction scheme" in an efficient way. It also welcomed the Commission's intention to submit, within the Berlin financial perspectives, before the next Agriculture Council a package of measures addressing the problems on the beef market. With a view to avoid distortion of competition, the Council called on Member States to notify national aids to finance BSE-measures in order to enable the Commission to present a report in the next Agriculture Council meeting.

BSE : Follow-up of Scientific Opinion of 12 January (BG)

The Council supported the Commission's intention to bring forward proposals to ban all mechanically recovered meat from all ruminant bones of all ages and to introduce compulsory heat treatment of rendered ruminant fat for animal feed. The Council also gave support to the Commission´s intention to bring forward a proposal to remove from the food and feed chain the vertebral column of cattle. The Commission will bring to the Standing Veterinary Committee the precise proposal to give effect to this, including procedures and age limit. This proposal will take into account the risk situation in Member States. Mr Byrne said: "There is now a clear consensus in the Agriculture Council that Community measures in relation to BSE offer the most effective guarantees on the safety of beef to consumers".

The Council reaffirmed its support to maintain the 30 months age limit for rapid BSE testing. The Commission will review this if necessary on the basis of the results of the testing programmes and new scientific advice. The Council also recalled the necessity to keep the present provisional ban on MBM under review.

Protection of animals during transport (BG)

Mr Byrne presented the Commission report on the implementation of EC legislation concerning the protection of animals during transport. The outcome of the report calls for urgent action to improve the situation. "Animal welfare is a priority for the Commission and I believe that it should be the same for Member States. The Commission report concludes that Member States have shown clear difficulties in fully applying Community legislation on the protection of animals during transport. I must point out that national authorities did not give the necessary priority to this area of EU legislation."

He presented the areas where the Commission has already taken initiatives:

- Co-operation with the Candidate Countries, which started in April 2000, lead Slovenia, Czech Republic and Poland to transpose the main EU requirements on animal transport into their national law. It could be said that other Candidate Countries will follow the same approach in the near future. The outcome of this initiative has mainly improved the condition animals and in particular horses are transported towards the EU.

- The Commission has requested a mandate from the Council to negotiate the participation of the European Community in the revised European Convention for the Protection of Animals during International Transport. The proposal has already been discussed during several expert meetings at the Council.

- Finally, the Standing Veterinary Committee has already started to discuss a draft proposal to amend veterinary certificates for intra-Community trade of livestock in order to refer to the fitness of the animals to be transported. This will improve the control of animals at departure.

Mr Byrne added that the Commission intends to pursue its actions following the recommendations of the report by the following means:

- During the first half of 2001, the Commission will present a proposal concerning ventilation systems of road vehicles used for journeys exceeding 8 hours, including requirements for a minimum ventilation rate and mandatory systems for the monitoring and recording of the temperature.

- An additional proposal to the Council amending the directive on the transport of animals is under preparation aiming to improve the format of the "route plan", to introduce a harmonised format for the authorisation of transporters in the EU, and to determine a precise definition of animals unfit for transport. In this context additional measures for the protection of horses will also be introduced.

Concluding, Mr Byrne said: "The Commission will continue to check the enforcement of this Directive. The Commission will be following future developments very closely and will take appropriate follow up measures, including the opening of infringement proceedings if no improvements are seen".

Welfare of intensively kept pigs (BG)

- Mr Byrne presented a report on intensive pig farming and a Commission proposal amending EU legislation on the protection of pigs to improve welfare conditions. The proposal aims to:

- Ban the use of individual stalls for pregnant sows and gilts and to ban the use of tethers immediately;

- Increase the living space available for sows and gilts;

- Allow the sows and gilts to have permanent access to materials for rooting;

- Introduce higher level of training and competence on welfare issues for the stockman and the personnel in charge of the animals;

- Request new scientific advice in relation to certain issues of pig farming.

It is also necessary to amend the Annex of the Directive laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs to bring it in line the with new scientific evidence available. The Commission will propose a directive and put it to Standing Veterinary Committee next February. The proposal will regulate noise levels and lights, access to feed materials for rooting, timing of weaning of piglets and prohibit the worst type of mutilations.

Mr Byrne said: "Scientific evidence is now available pointing out that apart from adult boars and sows around parturition, pigs are social animals and welfare problems for sows persist even in the best stall housing systems. I took the recommendations of the Scientific Committee very seriously in preparing the present proposal. It addresses the ban on the use of individual pen for sows during a period starting from 4 weeks after the service to 7 days before the expected time of farrowing. The use of tethers for sows and gilts will be definitively forbidden. The proposal also sets out rules to improve the living environment of pigs and piglets in general setting requirements for living spaces, floor surfaces and proper feeding systems. Being aware of the importance of the effects of stockmanship on the welfare of pigs the Commission proposal introduces new requirements for the persons attending to the animals".

Speaking on the cost of the proposed measures, Mr Byrne said: "Clearly, improved animal welfare conditions carry a price and the measures outlined in this proposal are no exception. In an industry as competitive as the pigmeat industry, where as I am aware profit margins are extremely tight even small price differentials can have important competitive implications. There are also implications for consumers who, ultimately, bear the cost of improved welfare standards. The Commission is not blind to these implications. Extensive consultations have taken place with experts inside and outside the Commission. These consultations have led the Commission to the conclusion that the additional costs are a price worth paying."

"Animal welfare is a central issue in relation to the development of future farming policies in the EU to bring food safety together with efficient farming systems". Mr Byrne concluded.

Marketing of propagating material for vines (BG)

The Council returned a Commission proposal on the "marketing of materials for the vegetative propagation of the vine" back to COREPER for further consideration.

The Commission proposal has two basic aims: to ensure the free movement of propagating material for vines in the internal market and an update to take account of scientific and technical progress. It requires Member States to ensure that varieties accepted into the catalogues of other Member States are also accepted in their own territory. It will thus remove the possibility of any real or potential barriers to trade and will promote the free movement of vine propagating material.

The proposal also creates a legal basis for product specific procedures to ensure full risk assessment of genetically modified material. It ensures that authorisation of a GMO product using the risk assessment requirements of Directive 90/220 on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms into the environment, is a prerequisite for the official registration of GMO propagating material. On this particular part of the proposal, some Member States asked for further examination of the Commission proposal.

Simplification (GK)

Mr Fischler gave an update on the Commission's efforts to simplify the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The Commission regulation on arable crops has been amended to introduce the proposal concerning set aside for environmental reasons so that traditional landscape features such as hedges can be protected. Mr Fischler pointed out that the work on the consolidation of agriculture legislation had made good progress, around 500 consolidated acts have been made available on the Eur-Lex website. He informed the ministers that the Commission's second report on simplification was adopted. He cited the adoption of simpler regulations in relation with import and export licences, and the replacement of 23 regulations in the wine sector by one as just two examples to be found in the report ( http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/publi/index_en.htm) .

Responding to questions raised about the "Small Framers Scheme" the Commission proposed in December, Fischler stressed that the 1000 euros threshold should apply for a trial period. "Once we have gained sufficient experience, we can decide whether to increase the amount. But already with 1000 euros the number of farmers exempt from farm bureaucracy could reach 1.1 million.", he said. He pointed out that only aid paid out directly to farmers are included in the scheme, while forms of payments for services rendered by farmers should be excluded. "I regard the WTO-green-box compatibility of the farm aids paid under the scheme as an important additional advantage. But if we want it to be green-box-compatible, we cannot have an obligation to produce.", Fischler stated. He also made clear that there will be minimum obligation of maintaining the land in good agricultural condition. "A farmer who sells or leases his land will not be able to respect this condition and therefore cannot continue to receive aid under the Small Farmers Scheme.", he concluded.

The Council concluded that the Member States will submit their suggestions and contributions in writing.

Olive oil reform (GK)

Commissioner Fischler presented the Commission proposal which provides for the extension of the present schemes, up to the 1st of November 2003, and states a link between the future aid and the existence of the Geographical Information System (GIS). It foresees a new classification for olive oils and arrangements to allow concrete activities related to the quality as from November 2003. "Let me make clear that you should not come to the conclusion that the last two years were characterised by inaction. On the contrary, significant steps were taken in a series of areas related to the improvement of statistics and the strengthening of controls. However, progress in the implementation of a GIS was slower than what Member States had earlier indicated. Since a GIS system is essential for either choice of reform, there is no real alternative to the extension of the temporary scheme.", Fischler stated.

The Commission proposes that the provisions currently in force be extended for another two marketing years. The Commission therefore proposes that the Council should decide as of now that the future aid will depend on the existence of an operational GIS.

As regards classification, the two main amendments put forward involve :

- a reduction in the authorised maximum acidity for several categories of olive oil, in order to take account of technical progress; however this reduction has to be limited so that other quality criteria, which offset the importance of the acidity, can be taken into account,

- a change in the descriptions of certain types of oil, in order to prevent confusion between generic designations and designations specific to a particular category. It is especially needed where this creates confusion in the mind of the consumer to the detriment of other categories of olive oil and undermines efforts made by the producers to offer high quality products.

The Council referred the proposal to the Special Committee Agriculture (SCA) for examination.

Antibiotic Additives in Feedingstuff (BG)

The Austrian Delegation raised under any other business its concern about the use of antibiotics in feedingsstuffs. Currently, there are still 4 antibiotic additives allowed in the EU which do not have a human equivalent. Mr Byrne reconfirmed its intention to propose this year the phasing out of the remaining antibiotic additives as a precautionary measure thus following up the advice of the Scientific Steering Committee. The Council welcomed this announcement. Mr Byrne made however also clear the key role of the national control authorities in enforcing existing legislation. "Adopting the appropriate legislation is certainly essential, however, the protection of public health requires that adequate resources are allocated for the controls in the field. The need for such controls is illustrated by the unfortunate event in Germany and in Austria, where public health was threatened by the use of unauthorised products in animal feedingstuffs and the administraion of unauthorised products to farm animals".

Released on 30/01/2001

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