FSA Press Release, 22 July 2013
The UK Government has published the first set of reports under the European Union Balance of Competences Review. These reports aim to deepen public understanding of the UK’s relationship with the EU.
The reports draw on evidence submitted to provide a wide ranging and balanced analysis of the EU’s ability to act, the impact that EU action has on the UK national interest and future challenges.
The Food Standards Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs worked on the Animal Health and Welfare and Food Safety report. This covers food safety, including feed, food labelling and food compositional standards. A separate report on health, also published today, covers nutrition and related matters.
The following is the Executive Summary taken from the report. A full copy of the report is available on this site: Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union Animal Health and Welfare and Food Safety Report
This report examines the balance of competences between the European Union and the United Kingdom in the area of animal health and welfare and food safety. It is a reflection and analysis of the evidence submitted by experts, non-governmental organisations, businesspeople, Members of Parliament and other interested parties, either in writing or orally, as well as a literature review of relevant material. Where appropriate, the report sets out the current position agreed within the Coalition Government for handling this policy area in the EU. It does not predetermine or prejudge proposals that either Coalition party may make in the future for changes to the EU or about the appropriate balance of competences.
The report is one of 32 that together analyse what membership of the EU means for the UK’s national interest. They aim to deepen public and parliamentary understanding of our relationship with the EU. In this report we cover animal health (including veterinary medicines), animal welfare and food safety (including feed, food labelling and food compositional standards).
We drew on submissions received in response to a Call for Evidence which was distributed widely in the UK and to EU and non-EU (third) countries. For the subjects covered we looked at the scope of the EU’s competences as they affect the UK, how they are used, how they impact on our national interest and future challenges.
The EU internal market, and free movement of animals, animal products and food within it, has been the main driver for the development of competence in these areas. Other drivers are the need to protect public health and consumer interests, the avoidance of outbreaks of animal disease and a desire to protect the wellbeing of animals. Food and animal feed are traded extensively, both within the EU and internationally, with total UK exports worth £18.2 billion in 2011. The majority of UK agricultural exports are to other EU Member States and 69% (by value) of the UK’s food imports also come from the EU.
UK law on animal health and welfare and food safety derives largely from requirements set at EU level. In relation to animals, this often reflects international standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) with the active participation of the UK.
When considering the EU internal market for food, animals and animal products, all trade associations, civil society and government bodies who responded to this issue agreed that the internal market produced real benefits for the UK. Civil society organisations with an interest in animal protection called for increased flexibility in EU legislation for the control of animal diseases to allow Member States the opportunity to take account of national circumstances.
They felt that harmonisation at EU level was not always the best approach and in some cases may actually impede UK action. Notwithstanding this, these respondents also saw the importance of a coordinated EU approach to animal disease control, including the sharing of resources, expertise and intelligence. A number of respondents from various sectors claimed that the UK has positively influenced the level of the EU’s standards in food, animal health and animal welfare law.
On animal welfare, whilst several civil society respondents in particular argued that the UK should continue to take the lead in setting high welfare standards, others, representing industry interests, raised concerns that this could put UK businesses at a competitive disadvantage. It was recognised among respondents that the UK was right to press for the sentience of animals to be formally recognised within the body of the Lisbon Treaty, which now requires this to be reflected in most EU policy.
Consumer survey data suggested that UK consumers are largely unaware of the role the EU plays in making food law. Only 11% preferred food law to be made by the EU, although this figure rose to 23% when people were given some information about EU legislation.
There were respondents across all sectors who stated a preference for legislation that is less prescriptive and focussed on outcomes, although there were a few who argued that prescriptive approaches helped smaller businesses. Fair competition within the EU internal market relies to a great extent on harmonised rules that create a level playing field, and some felt that when Member States implement, interpret or enforce EU law differently this impacts on competition.
Concerns were raised that better (or smart) regulation principles are not always applied effectively within the EU. In particular, some respondents from government and trade associations stated that impact assessments are not always undertaken by the European Commission and those that are carried out can be of variable quality. Some trade association and civil society organisations stated that they found the EU hard to engage with and insufficiently transparent.
All respondents who commented on risk-based legislation agreed that animal health, welfare and food law should be risk-based. However, whilst a number of respondents argued that EU risk assessment is generally science-based, there were concerns that some risk management decisions on animal health, welfare and food law had been disproportionate. Respondents gave several examples where broader societal concerns and other factors had been influential in decision making. Genetically modified food and feed was raised as an area of concern, where some respondents argued the EU applies a political overlay that disrupts trade and stifles innovation, putting all EU countries at a competitive disadvantage.
Looking to the future, in February 2013 it was announced that the EU and the United States of America (USA) are to launch negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. A bilateral free trade agreement between the EU and USA would potentially create the world’s largest common market for trading goods and services. This offers the opportunity to shape global norms, but may also give rise to further complex issues concerning the balance of national and EU competences.