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President, Honourable Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I very pleased to be here today – and to have this opportunity to address the Parliament's Animal Welfare Intergroup.
Animal welfare is certainly a sensitive and important issue.
Since 2009, the definition of animals as "sentient beings" has been enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Hence, it is one of the provisions of general application affecting several important EU policies. I think we can proudly say that the EU is a global model on this.
But more importantly animal welfare is an issue which is very close to the hearts of millions of EU citizens.
Let me say right from the beginning, that I too share the concerns of many Europeans for the proper treatment of animals.
Indeed, I have identified animal welfare as one of my priorities, on which I intend to focus over the course of my mandate as Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.
A successful food policy has to fulfil a range of objectives. It has to cover food security and food safety as well as environmental sustainability. It also has to respect the way food producing animals are farmed.
Animal welfare is now being progressively considered internationally. It is an important factor towards tackling the global challenge of achieving a sustainable food system. It is also an integral part of the decision-making process for policies on animal health, food safety and quality. I will return to this international dimension a little later.
Members of this Intergroup will be well aware that the current EU Strategy for animal welfare, adopted by the Commission in 2012, comes to an end this year.
My immediate priority is to make sure that the majority of the actions listed in the Strategy are duly completed.
In this regard – and taking into account today's presentation of a campaign on pet animals – I am pleased to announce that the Commission will soon present the results of a study on the welfare of dogs and cats in relation to commercial practices.
I can, however, tell you that the preliminary results of this study indicate that some serious issues need to be addressed – and in particular that responsible pet ownership needs to be actively promoted.
In addition, I am pleased to inform the Intergroup that the Commission will launch, by the end of 2015, a new Eurobarometer survey on animal welfare.
This is an opportune moment to reflect on where we stand and to determine a new direction for the future.
As you will know, various options have been put forward – including a proposal for an animal welfare law, initially suggested by the European Parliament, and one for establishing an EU platform for animal welfare, proposed by some EU Agriculture Ministers.
I have already started discussions on the future direction within the Commission, in particular with my colleagues responsible for agriculture and trade as well as with the responsible Vice-Presidents.
Let me be clear. No decision has yet been taken and the issue is still under discussion.
I can however say that any future action will need to fit in with the key political priorities established by President Juncker at the beginning of this Commission's mandate. Any new initiative will have to be consistent with the Commission's strategic drive for growth and innovation.
In the meantime, a number of parallel processes are ongoing.
In particular, I should mention the Commission proposal to revise the EU legislation on official controls. I believe it holds the potential to strengthen the enforcement of animal welfare standards.
This proposal also foresees the establishment of EU reference centres for animal welfare. These centres will make a valuable contribution through better technical knowledge and assistance. I know that this idea received a positive reception here in this House.
Furthermore, the proposal opens up the possibility to use animal welfare indicators when undertaking official controls, and allows for the adoption of such indicators through delegated acts.
Learning from our experiences in recent years, we must continue to tackle widespread non-compliance through pro-active enforcement measures.
I would like to close with a few words on the development of international activities in the field of animal welfare. Clearly the concern of EU citizens as regards the treatment of animals does not stop at our borders. I receive quite a number of messages via my social media accounts as well as via petitions on this issue.
Many developing countries look to the EU as a model of how to ensure an increase in animal protein production while maintaining high standards of food quality.
EU regulations on the food chain set a positive example of how to ensure trust among consumers and to foster sustainable development of the food chain.
This is where a key challenge for the future lies – to continue to promote our approach worldwide and in particular to promote animal welfare as an essential component of food sustainability.
With the proper support in communication and education, globalisation represents an opportunity to encourage food products to be developed under high welfare standards.
At the same time, such efforts could contribute towards preventing globalisation from undermining our EU standards.
EU animal production must seek to profit from its advantageous position as a world leader on animal welfare to steer this trend and to further explore markets demanding ethical production.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me finish by thanking you once again for inviting me to address this Intergroup. I look forward to our future collaboration, in particular as the future direction of EU animal welfare policy takes shape.