Monday, 4th May 2009
May’s Brussels Briefing
1. SCOTTISH PONIES ARE BEING EXPORTED FOR HORSEMEAT
Pet ponies from Scotland may be being illegally transported from Scotland to abattoirs in France, where they are slaughtered for their meat,
according to a dossier I have received from a Horse Society Welfare volunteer in Scotland. The dossier alleges that hundreds of horses and pet ponies are being sent to the continent for slaughter from Scotland, some of them going via the ferry terminal at Stranraer to Ireland. Other shipments to France through Dover have allegedly included New Forest ponies purchased by French buyers, who regularly attend the New Forest Beaulieu Road sales. There is no doubt that the economic recession is forcing many people to get rid of their horses which they can no longer afford to look after. But many of these people would be horrified if they realised their pet ponies were being sent on gruelling, long journeys to grisly abattoirs on the continent, where they can end up in salami and sausage meat.
It seems that horse and pony export licences are being issued by the UK government, despite the fact that UK regulations only permit the export of ponies for breeding, riding and exhibition purposes. Horses can be purchased for around £0.50 per kg right now in the UK and sold for up to £1.40p in France, so substantial profits can be made by unscrupulous dealers who care more about money than animal welfare.
There are horse welfare people in Ireland watching the horse sales and the docks and I am hoping to receive information from them in due course. In the meantime I have written to Agriculture Minister Hilary Benn at DEFRA, asking for further information about the export of horses and ponies to the continent and asking if checks and measures can be improved to provide better protection to the UK equine population and to prevent their cruel exploitation in this way.
2. A NEW EU VISION FOR FISHERIES
We need a new vision for the future of our fishing industry. For years I have argued that the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been an abject failure. It has failed to protect fish stocks, over 88% of which are near collapse in EU waters. It has also failed to protect jobs, with thousands of fishermen, processors and land-based workers being thrown on the scrap-heap.
The micro-management of fisheries, by an army of bureaucrats based in Brussels, has been a disaster. De-commissioning, tie-ups, catch restrictions, quota cuts, effort limitation, kilowatt-days, net sizes and a draconian punishment regime, has driven our fishermen to distraction. Skippers and crew have to sail through a storm of red tape and bureaucracy, before they brave the dangers of our oceans. Fishing is the most dangerous profession in the world and men and women who risk their lives to put healthy food on our tables deserve better.
The European Commission's Green Paper on CFP reform offers a glimmer of hope. The Commission has admitted that its management policies have failed. The Green Paper points the way to radical initiatives that will devolve control of fisheries management from the Brussels bureaucrats, handing it over to the stakeholders, the fishermen themselves.
The reform process will not happen overnight, however. Widespread consultation with the sector, detailed analysis of new policy options and a final definitive White Paper will not be completed until 2012. We need to survive the next three years if we wish to ensure that we have a modern and well-equipped fleet, ready to meet the demands for more healthy seafood in the future. Sustainable fishing, protecting our ecosystems, better science, financial stability and a better and safer working environment, are all key components for an improved fisheries policy.
The reality at present is considerably different. Rampant over-fishing, inadequate science, massive discards, large-scale ecosystem damage, poor financial rewards and often dirty and dangerous working conditions are the hallmark of 50 years of the CFP. Time is running out and the need for dramatic change is evident.
The challenges and opportunities go further than just fisheries. Transport, energy, tourism and a host of new coastal developments are placing their own pressures on the marine ecosystem. Climate change and pollution have already had an impact on Europe's seas and coasts. All of these issues mean that the CFP cannot be looked at in isolation. So the reform of the CFP means taking a fresh look at the broader maritime picture.
We also need to recapture Europe's place at the forefront of world aquaculture production. We need to lead the world in fish farming and yet we have allowed countries like Chile, China, Vietnam and Turkey to seize our market share. One reason for this is red tape. Our fish farmers complain that they have to comply with over 400 separate rules and regulations before they can sell a single fish.
We need to cut through the red tape and free up our fish farmers to take the lead again. We have an ideal coastline, a benign environment, cutting-edge science and technology as well as innovative and hard-working fish farmers, ready to meet the demands of a growing population for healthy fish products.
The missing link is EU commitment. The European Commission needs to be much more robust in their approach to the development of aquaculture. They need to put their money where their mouth is. We need more investment and more research and development, better and greater support for new business development and a dramatic reduction in red tape.
The new Parliament elected in June will have 60% of new members. The Fisheries Committee itself will have almost an entirely new line-up of members with the retirement of the President, four Vice-Presidents and some two-thirds of the members. Fresh faces may bring a fresh approach to the many problems that beset our oceans and coastal communities. We must wish them well. The survival of our seas may depend on their decisions.