Category Archives: Group 5

Dock the tails!

Living conditions for European pigs don't live up to expectations or legislation. Photo: Asger Ladefoged

Despite a European ban Danish farmers are performing tail docking on more than 90 percent of all pigs. Animal welfare NGOs criticises the national politicians for not implementing and controlling the EU legislation.

by Jonas Sloth Bach

At Sjørup Pigfarm Niels Rauff Hansen, 38, is overlooking his pigs. There are a little more than 2000 here on the farm outside the city of Viborg. They are grunting round the place. Crowded like a rush-hour subway in Tokyo but with a rather different level of cleanness and smell. It is to be honest a mess. Same for all the pigs is, that they have less than half their tail left. Niels Rauff Hansen explains why.
“Simply, this is the only way to be sure that the pigs don’t start biting each others tales,” he says. He knows that the procedure is illegal to perform as a routine, but Niels Rauff Hansen does not feel ha can take any chances.
“Tail biting is a very serious problem, and the only way I can be sure to avoid it is by docking the tails. It only hurts for a while – the bites will hurt all the time and maybe even cause the pig to die from infection. I don’t want to run that risk”, he says.

Pigs draw the short straw

Photo: Asger Ladefoged

Birgitte Damm, spokesperson for the biggest Danish animal welfare NGO: Animals Protection is educated as a veterinary doctor and she is in charge of their project on pigs. She has heard explanations like Niels Rauff Hansens many times before. But she is still deeply against tail docking.
“Tail biting is a result of stress; to little space to move around on, insufficient amount of straw in the stalls or poor living conditions in other ways. Tail biting is the pigs only way to signal these things and tail docking does not solve the problem – it only removes the visible symptom,” Birgitte Damm says. Research show that only 5 percent of Danish pigs gets straw at all. The straws provide comfort but most important; it is a much needed activity to prevent stress among the pigs.
“It is very well documented that strawing helps a lot, so there is an easy way to solve the problem,” Birgitte Damm says. In this aspect the legislation is quite clear. You are not allowed to perform tail docking if you haven’t done everything you can to prevent tail biting using other methods.

Illegal procedure
On the 18th of December 2008 the European parliament decided on a regulation that prohibited routinely tail docking but resent studies show that the effect of the legislation has been all but visible. A report from December last year made by a cooperation between the Danish ministry of agriculture, veterinary doctors and NGOs representing both farmers and animal welfare fighters stated that more than 95 percent of all pigs suffer tail docking. The same percentage is documented in international reports made by EU in 2007 and 2008.
In addition to this legislation there are also rules on straw bedding, space regulations and ventilation. But the words written in law books have little impact on the reality of modern pig farming.

Docking out of control
The key problem is that the laws are not being carried out. And the farmers in general are not afraid to break them.
“The laws are not being kept and there does not exist neither control nor sanctions to the farmers breaking them,” Birgitte Damm from Animal Protection says. She is supported by Compassion in World Farming. A big NGO who themselves has made investigative video journalism and statistic on this topic.
“Our undercover investigation into 74 farms have revealed that pigs are all too often being kept in barren conditions and basic European laws are being routinely broken,” they claim.
To Birgitte Damm the responsibility lies with the Danish politicians.
“Yes, I must admit the state is not good enough enforcing the laws. But it might also be effective to make clearer and higher minimums for the amount of straw bedding etc.,” she says and continues:
“The legislation on tail docking is not enough in itself, even if it was kept the legislation wouldn’t be enough to make pig’s conditions good enough,” Birgitte Damm says.
“We want stricter regulation on the issues that really matters to create better living conditions for the pigs”

 

Photo: Asger Ladefoged

Responsibility – care or share?
The European Union recognizes that their legislation is still not ‘fully implemented’. A vague statement taken into consideration that tail docking appears routinely in more than 90 percent of the central European farms. At the same time EU refuses to take any more responsibility towards the welfare on pig farms.
“Member States are primarily responsible for implementing these requirements. However, the Commission works to ensure that Member States apply EU legislation. To this effect, the FVO carries out regularly audits in Member States,” Aikaterini Apostola, Press Officer for Health and Consumer Policy, states. During these audits, inspections are carried out in pig farms and the system of controls put in place by Member States to ensure the application of EU law regarding the welfare of pigs is assessed. 
“In case deficiencies are found, recommendations are made to Member States to correct them,” Aikaterini Apostola says. She shows optimism for the future of European pigs.
”It appears that Member States have slowly started to develop guidance for veterinarians and for farmers to better implement the provision of enrichment material and the avoidance of routine tail docking,” she says without giving any good examples.

 

Blame it on the bacon
In Denmark the legislation from EU was quickly implemented in the Danish law text. But now three years after the only pigs who get to keep their tail are those living in free range and organic farms. The rest still get their tails docked. It has not been possible to get a comment from the minister of agriculture, but so far the new government has not shown any signals of improving legislation.
The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration is in charge of the control audits and they have been criticised for not doing enough. And they are aware of the challenge.
“I realize that the number of tail docked pigs is far to high,” they state.

Video from Compassion in World Farming

Stricter offshore Oil & Gas regulations cause unrest in Industry

Offshore Oil & Gas Installation

By Anshuli Lakhan

The European Commission has recently made a proposal regarding stricter offshore oil and gas regulations on companies that fall under the European Union area. The companies believe that due to only three out of 27 member states having an oil and gas industry of any significance, this matter should be left in their own hands.

After the Deepwater Horizon incident last year, the European Union has taken steps to attempt to prevent such an occurrence from happening in their waters. However, these proposed legislations are causing companies in the industry to be unhappy with EU involvement.

According to Joe Hennon, spokesperson for the Environment Commissioner, this is the reaction from the industry whenever new legislation is proposed.

“This response is expected and should not affect the legislation from being passed in the EU,” he said.

The legislation should come into effect by 2013 and that other than the usual opposition by the industry this proposal should not have many groups or individuals disputing the draft states Mr Hennon.

 

The reason behind the legislation

Due to the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico last year, the EU have been taking a look at their own waters and analysing the risk of it happening in their backyard.

The Commission stated in a press release that if they want to prevent a similar accident in their territory then precautions must be taken now to prevent it. This is a pre-emptive strike to prepare for the possibility of it happening and damaging the marine life and the environment.

The regulation, according to the Commission, introduces clear rules for effective prevention and response of a major accident. It is a precautionary step that should have been taken long ago, especially with the possible dangers involved in this industry.

Currently, the member states all operate under different environmental, health and safety standards. With this new regulation, all companies will be required to follow the highest safety standards.

Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said in a press release: “Securing best industry practices in all our offshore operations is an undisputable must. This proposal is a crucial step forward towards safer offshore activities to the benefit of our citizens and our environment.”

There have been accidents that have occurred in the EU waters that could have been disastrous and had the possibility of having extreme consequences. The EU has found that after the accident in Mexico, measures need to be taken in order to make oil and gas instalments in their territory much safer; not only for the people but also for the environment.

Deepwater Horizon spill - what could happen in the EU

Janez Potočnik, Environment Commissioner, said: “We have learnt our lessons from last year’s Deepwater Horizon accident. This safety update is good news for the environment, but it’s also good news for business which will be able to deploy its operations in a predictable framework. There is ample evidence from past accidents that prevention is better than cure.”

 

Response from the Oil and Gas Industry

A source from inside the Commission said that the companies in the industry are not happy about this draft proposal and a few of the major companies in the industry have already voiced concerns about an EU level regulation. The Source would not name the companies, however.

There are over 1000 offshore oil and gas installations in the EU almost 50% of which is located in the UK; one of the largest being Oil & Gas UK. With the majority of them being located in three out of the 27 member states territory, the companies feel that it is their own business to ensure the safety of their workers and the operations themselves.

In response to the Commission’s proposal on offshore safety, Oil & Gas UK released a statement.

Chief executive, Malcolm Webb, said: “Oil & Gas UK is opposed to blanket EU regulation of this country’s offshore oil and gas industry, which operates under a fully fit for purpose and robust regulatory regime. Relinquishing regulatory control to the EU, which has no established competence in this matter and where only three out of the twenty-seven member states have an offshore oil and gas industry of real scale, risks undermining safety and environmental performance here in the UK.”

When asked to comment further, Oil & Gas UK declined the opportunity.

With the unrest amongst the members of the industry, it has been suggested that some of the larger companies may continue doing things their own way.

“If this becomes a regulation, which it should by 2013, then they will simply have to be followed,” said Joe Hennon in response to this suggestion. “If they do not adhere to them, then it will be up to the individual member states to enforce the legislation. If they fail to do so, only then would the EU intervene.”

 

The Oil and Gas Industry

Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said that most oil and gas in Europe is produced offshore, often in harsh geographical and geological conditions. Given the growing energy demand, the EU will need all the oil and gas from beneath our seas. But the government also needs to prevent accidents like Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico from happening again.

With oil remaining the main source of energy at 37% consumption, the EU will continue drilling and producing oil to meet this demand. Therefore they must ensure the safety of those installations and reduce the risk of an accident; this proposal is a step towards that goal.

Not only is the United Kingdom one of the largest consumers of energy but it is also one of the highest consumers of energy. In 2009, the European Union combined consumed approximately 460 million toe (tonnes of oil equivalent). The UK, one of the largest consumers after Germany and France spent 13% of that number.

Dan Jorgensen, a member of the Environment committee in the European Parliament, suggests that this initiative will be beneficial to the environment. Their goal for the environment is, with the help of the rest of the world, to keep the increase in temperature below 2 degrees and this proposal will help that endeavour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the EU anti obesity policy applied in the European Parliament canteen

BRUSSELS – The canteen inside the European parliament still offers fatty products despite of the European Union’s effort to regulate and reduce obesity all over the countries under the EU umbrella.

By Maram Aboueita

 Based on my investigations, the European Parliament’s canteen offers obesity products such as white bread and sweet cakes which contradicts the anti obesity policy.

In addition, not all of the sandwiches are labeled with the ingredients and calories.

The menu offered by the canteen in the European parliament includes fatty and obesity products.

                                                                                                   

Anti Obesity Policy

The white paper seeks to give the power to the EU to regulate what Europeans buy and eat.

In fact, the anti obesity policy proposed by the EU encompasses six priority areas which are better informed consumers through labeling the food stuff, provide healthy and low fat food, encourage physical activity, develop the evidence base to support policy making, and prioritizing children and low socio-economic groups.

EP Canteen Menu

The European Parliament’s canteen menu includes chips, soda products, white bread, and sweet cakes and tarts.

“No real anti obesity policy applied in the canteen in the European Parliament”, Corinna Zerger, the advisor on Food Safety and Quality, says.

In fact, the canteen offers both healthy and unhealthy products, and gives people the choice. However, this is not enough to regulate obesity, based on Corinna Zerger.

Although it always offers the healthy option, still this is not enough to the European Parliament who exert efforts to reduce obesity among Europe. Some people would think that the EU could not regulate obesity among its workers, how come it will reduce obesity among all countries under the EU umbrella.

In addition, the European Union rules and regulations should be first applied inside the European parliament and commission, before its being applied in countries under the umbrella of the European Union.

In the European Parliament, a lot of discussions took place around what the canteen should offer such as organic or low calorie food, according to Corinna Zerger.

Obesity is increasing at an alarming pace in Europe 

Obesity is one of the major public health challenges of the 21st century. Its prevalence has tripled in many countries of the European region, particularly among children, since 1980s, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The EU Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity-related Health Issues takes an integrated approach, involving stakeholders at local, regional and national level. Member States have the main responsibility for their health policy. 

However, coordination at EU level brings clear added value. That is why, as part of the Strategy, the European Commission and the EU member States are working together and have developed action in Priority areas which are better informed consumers, making the healthy option available, encouraging physical activity, and developing the evidence base to support policy making.

 According to Philippe Roux, Health and Consumers Directorate General in the European commission, the High level Group on Physical Activity, chaired by the European Commission, for example, shares policy ideas and best practices across the EU and steers common initiatives such as the EU salt reduction framework. Another example is the EU School Fruit scheme which combines the distribution of free fruit and vegetables at schools with awareness raising campaigns for students and teachers.

A final example is the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, established in 2005. This Platform is an example of action-oriented cooperation to help reverse the obesity trend. The Members, which include European-level umbrella organizations ranging from the food industry, health organizations and NGOs, have so far delivered close to 300 commitments for action – for example on consumer information/labeling, responsible advertising and product reformulation (i.e. reducing or eliminating salt, sugar and trans-fats). 

Labeling is not enough

According to Corinna Zerger, labeling on processed food packaging is a very good idea to inform people, at least the ones who want to know, of the calories and ingredients that are included in the food, but still it is not strict enough to reduce obesity. However, it should go further and stricter such as Denmark’s fat tax.

Denmark has introduced the world’s first fat tax which is a charge on highly fat saturated food such as butter, milk, and cheese. It made unhealthy food expensive for people in order to discourage buying it.

Based on Corinna Zerger, Denmark’s fat tax is an example of a strict method to reduce obesity, even though it is not more than a smart way to raise money for the Danish government. In fact, it would not affect consumers’ behaviors.

It is a good way to apply this fat tax policy inside the European parliament in order to be the role model for the European region, according to Corinna Zerger.

An action should be taken

The European parliament could take an action towards what the canteen offers in terms of obesity products. For instance, it could offer healthy and low fat products and change some recipes in order to reduce calories, according to Corinna Zerger. The European parliament is considered Europe’s role model. Therefore, it should strictly apply anti obesity policy.

Fact Box:

 Based on the present legislation, it is compulsory to list all the ingredients contained in a food product, including water and additives, appearing in descending order of weight. Each constituent of a compound ingredient must also be listed, unless the constituent has already been listed as an ingredient in its own right, or is present below certain quantities provided it is not a potential allergen.

Labeling on processed food packaging is very important. It empowers consumers by providing them with the necessary information to make informed choices about the foods they buy.

The updated legislation adopted  this summer introduces, among other measures, a minimum font size to make the information easier to read and mandatory nutrition information to help consumers choose foods that meet their personal preferences or dietary requirements. Certain important nutritional characteristics of processed foods – energy (calories), fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt – will become compulsory on packaging. This information is vital for people who want to make healthy food choices for themselves and their families.

Food manufacturers are included as Members of the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Our approach is to work together to encourage companies to behave responsibly and ethically.  Food reformulation is a priority for action both with Member States and the Platform for action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health: the key objective is making the healthy choice the easy one.  So far we have seen some good results from this approach. For example, since the end of 2007, 8 major retailers operating in the UK eliminated hydrogenated vegetable oils  from their own-brand food ranges, 905 products have improved between 2005 and 2010 and many fast food restaurants have introduced fresh fruits and salads. We continue to encourage responsible marketing by the food industry.

 

 

 

Fisheries reform set to fail over environmental inaction.

 BRUSSELS – Europe’s lack of political will has been blamed for the failure to act on decades of illegal overfishing. Now, there are fears that nothing has changed as it is more than ever a contentious issue between Brussels, fishermen and environmental groups.

By Carla Johnson

Fish Markets in Brussels, just one of the countries in the EU which makes Europe the highest consumer of seafood in the world.

 

The European Commission is calling on the European Parliament, Member States and the fishing industry to support their Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform proposal as Europe’s fishing industry is on the brink of collapsing. Based on three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental the proposal aims at reducing the risks of overfishing.

I want to go for sustainability as a whole. I am talking about environmental sustainability by moving to Maximum Sustainable Yield 2015 and phasing out discards (undersized or unwanted fish) . I am talking about social sustainability, because we can build up healthy fish stocks in our waters and this is the best way to increase our fishermen’s income,” says Commissioner for Marine Affair and Fisheries Maria Damanaki.

 

So far sustainability has been the one thing that members of the Commission, Parliament and Council have agreed upon. Portuguese Member of the European Parliament who is on the committee for  fisheries, Maria Neves also shares this view. “I share with Madam Damanaki her conception of global sustainability not only environmental but social and economic. We have to establish a balance amongst these three pillars between the CFP”.


Environmental considerations

A European Union impact assessment this year demonstrated that currently 75% of all fish species in European waters have been overfished. If current trends continue only eight fish stocks out of 136 will be sustainable by 2020. It is now hoped that with this year’s release of the European Commission’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform proposal, that acknowledgement of the CFP’s past failures and the increasing concern about overfishing is a step in the right direction

The Commission is currently trying to emphasise the positive points on sustainability and their concern about overfishing as the proposal is coming under increasing fire from environmental groups. 

Saskia Richartz from the NGO Greenpeace says they have again been left disappointed with the Commission’s actions, who have failed to provide concrete details and targets to achieve aspirations on any environmental points in the new reform proposal.

We don’t think that the proposed CFP has sufficient targets, in fact it only has one target, which is the recovery of fish stocks by 2015. We support it, but it is missing a target date for implementing multi-annual plans, it’s missing feed reduction targets and its also missing targets such as the agreed target to recover the health of stocks by 2020”, she says.

Adviser to the Pew Environment Group’s European Marine Programme Markus Knigge, is currently working at the forefront of Pew’s efforts to ensure that the reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy ends overfishing in the EU and by EU vessels. He says that the Commission have not placed nearly enough priority on the environment in the new proposal.

We unfortunately do not see it [sustainability pillars] through the same eyes. In the legal text there is nothing saying that the environment should be prioritised or, that first there should be environmental sustainability in order to achieve economic and social sustainability,” says Markus Knigge.

The science can not be ignored

According to the Pew Environmental Group, politicians continuously decide on quotas without consideration of scientific advice. “For a ten-year period, the scientific advice was actually surpassed by 48% by politicians. There is no excuse [for continued overfishing] in terms of social concerns or economic concerns. It’s a no-brainer from our perspective,” says Markus Knigge.

Frustration builds amongst environmentalists in particular over the council spending so much energy every year on deciding quotas that aren’t enforced by many member states. Markus Knigge suggests that the EU looks to the models in United States and Australia for examples, who after listening to the scientists, have imposed a complete ban on overfishing.

They [the USA and Australia] just say it’s illegal, there is no discussion any more about taking social arguments or economic arguments into consideration and it has succeeded. They have improvement in stocks and fisheries and it’s relatively simple.”

Good in theory

The main solutions proposed by the Commission to deal with overfishing is the decentralisation and regionalisation of the policy. The idea works off a bottom-up approach to empower fishermen and governments to set quotas, penalties and sanctions.

The highly respected Fishmongers Company in the UK have a long history of ensuring the quality and sustainability of fish sold through the UK. Chris Leftwitch, Chief Inspector for the Fishmongers Company, states that while the idea is great in theory, putting in to practice is where all the problems start.

The EU has given no guidance to what they mean by regionalisation so, of course the problems start to manifest themselves,” he says.

The Commission states that this point on regionalisation was left open to interpretation intentionally to empower member states and give them more control over the policy. Mr Leftwitch adds however that, “that all sounds very good until you work out that you then have 27 different countries who want to put the meat on the bones, all with their own vested interest.”

Commissioner Damanaki agrees and continues to stress, in her discussion of the proposal, that if fish stocks are to survive and environmental sustainability is to improve, accurate information is needed. It is agreed among all parties that enforcement that remains the problem. This was demonstrated in the realise of a Pew Environmental Group report which stated that Bluefin Tuna had been over fish by 140% in 2010.

 

San Domenico, Italy: One of the thousand of Fishing port scattered around the European coast line. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Changing behaviours

Commissioner Damanaki states that it is fisherman need to learn to change their behaviour and Member States who should start supporting and promote the cooperation between scientists working in conjunction with the fisherman.

We have a problem with data delivery and we need to tackle this. Without data there can be no proper scientific advice. This is why I want to invest here and improve the co-operation between the fishing industry and the scientists.”

Chris Leftwitch says that until the EU can change its behaviour and deliver on its aspirations, its seems that the industry and environmental groups remain sceptical about any changes on environmental sustainability.

We appreciate and applaud a lot of things that are coming out from the commission but the chance of all these going through is slim, unless you have some high objectives that are set and enforced by Brussels.”