EUROPE/NEW ZEALAND – The European Parliament has given its approval to the EU-New Zealand free trade agreement (FTA), marking the first time the EU has ratified a trade deal with limitations on market access based on animal welfare standards.

This FTA also stands as the EU’s inaugural trade agreement to incorporate binding commitments to the Paris Agreement and core International Labour Organization standards.

The agreement, negotiated over five years, is a landmark for animal welfare advocates. While it liberalizes trade in most animal-based products, a notable condition restricts the beef quota to grass-fed animals, explicitly excluding feedlots.

This stance establishes a precedent for animal welfare standards in EU trade policy and aligns with environmental sustainability goals, reports Food Ingredients First.

Animal protection groups have welcomed this development, emphasizing the detrimental impact of feedlots on animals, causing respiratory and digestive diseases, and contributing to soil, air, and water pollution.

“This FTA should give the right impetus to repeat animal welfare conditions in other trade agreements, especially where a beef quota is negotiated,” Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals,  commended the agreement.

However, Eurogroup for Animals contends that the FTA could have included stronger provisions, such as explicitly linking animal welfare to sustainable food systems and setting concrete targets for cooperation on animal welfare.

The EU-New Zealand deal represents only the second time the EU has negotiated an animal welfare condition in an FTA, with the first instance occurring in the controversial EU-Mercosur FTA related to shelled eggs.

The focus on beef in the EU-New Zealand agreement demonstrates a willingness to consider production methods impacting animals, people, and the environment in trade negotiations.

Stephanie Ghislain, political affairs manager at Eurogroup for Animals, emphasizes the need for consistency in EU trade policy.

“Why would feedlots not be acceptable with New Zealand but acceptable and even encouraged with Mercosur countries or Australia?” she asked.

Despite the approval of the FTA, concerns persist regarding the non-committal language in the animal welfare cooperation chapter.

While the chapter is welcomed, critics argue that its language lacks commitment, particularly in provisions related to wild and aquatic animals. Eurogroup for Animals advocates for stronger language to ensure effective enforcement of animal welfare standards.

The EU-New Zealand FTA sets a precedent for future trade agreements, emphasizing the integration of animal welfare considerations for the benefit of both animals and the environment.

As the EU engages in negotiations with other agricultural powerhouses, the spotlight on animal welfare is expected to remain a key point of discussion.

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