The European parliament's environment, public health and food safety (ENVI) committee recently adopted a report on the proposed EU 'invasive alien species' regulation. From an animal welfare perspective, it was a bit of a mixed bag.
On the one hand, we welcome the MEPs' clear recognition that animal welfare must not be sacrificed and that the most humane control methods available must be used. That includes non-lethal methods more appropriate for dealing with vertebrate species and that fully consider the welfare of non-target as well as target animals.
"More than 12,000 non-native alien species are in the EU and the commission estimates they cause more than €12bn in damage each year"
We were deeply disappointed, however, that the committee supported derogations that could seriously undermine the effectiveness of the regulation. Aggressive lobbying largely on behalf of Denmark's mink fur farming industry, combined with a legislative timetable that is moving at such a breakneck speed means many MEPs hardly have time to consider the true impact of voting decisions.
The impact of invasive species on biodiversity and our ecosystems cannot be underestimated. More than 12,000 non-native alien species are in the EU and the commission estimates they cause more than €12bn in damage each year.
The animals can predate upon and compete with native species for resources, alter habitats, act as reservoirs for parasites, breed with native species and create new hybrids, and alter local food webs.
In the face of such a serious EU-wide problem, we need to prevent future invasions.
In many cases, invasive species in the EU have found their way into the wild through deliberate or negligent human activity such as the exotic pet trade and fur farming. The ENVI committee supports including a 'polluter pays' principle in the legislation, holding those responsible to account to ensure that the perpetrators, and not EU taxpayers, bear the costs of managing these species. That's laudable.
Yet at the same time, it has accepted a Danish-led derogation for the 'commercial breeding of animals' that can be so broadly interpreted as to give carte blanche to all manner of activities. This agenda is to derogate mink fur farming.
Animal farming in general is just their trojan horse. Escaping mink from EU fur farms are one of the most challenging invasive species we face today.
However, to derogate all animal farming could potentially be disastrous for preventing future invasive alien species.
As campaigners we often lament how long it can take for legislative reform to work its way through Brussels. Yet it would be equally lamentable to see such important legislation forced through so hastily to get a first reading agreement that we end up with a weak and compromised regulation.
We urge member states to be wise to blatant attempts to exempt one of the worst offending industries. As one of my EU colleagues noted, when the bath has overflowed it's no good mopping up the floor if you’ve also left the taps running.