In a rebuttal to an opinion article by Dr Paula Parker of the Australian Veterinary Association, French MEP Françoise Grossetête argues that Australian farmers have nothing to fear from new EU rules on antibiotics.
In late October, Dr Paula Parker, President of the Australian Veterinary Association, reacted to the recent adoption of new EU rules on the use of antibiotics in farms in a View article. She strongly questioned the so-called “reciprocity clause” through which the regulation forbids EU imports of meat products originating from third countries which do not abide by similar standards on antibiotic use.
As Parliament’s rapporteur on this piece of legislation, I actually strongly defended such reciprocity, arguing that EU rules should not only bind our own farmers, which would risk putting them in a situation of competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world. For too long, the EU has been overly naive in its trade relations and I think it is time for the world’s second largest economy to assert itself and shape the rules of globalisation.
Dr Parker is right when she writes that “health, welfare and food safety of our animals” should be a top priority and not only a “bargaining chip”. It is precisely because we decided to put human and animal health first that we settled on very stringent rules limiting the abuse of antibiotics in herds. One of those rules is a ban on the use of antimicrobials as growth promoters, which has already been in place since 2006. Another is to set up a list of critical antimicrobials that will be reserved for human use. Both are perfectly sensible actions and echo the work of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has already advocated for such measures at a global level.
These rules, however, can only bear fruit on the EU market if they are not circumvented by imports of food products from third countries that do not share this level of ambition. By imposing reciprocity, we wanted to ensure a fair level playing field for all farmers. We also wanted to put an end to hypocrisy: many at a global level agree that antimicrobial resistance is a burning issue but few dare to seriously take action. I believe that the EU should pave the way to a world where responsible use of antibiotics is a common rule. We are still far from that.
Our new rules are not aiming at specific countries and certainly not just at Australia, which has already made significant efforts to minimise the use of antibiotics in food producing animals. If Dr Paula Parker is right and Australia’s standards for food animal health, welfare and food safety are “among the highest in the world”, then it should not have trouble adapting to common sense EU standards.
Given the high stakes of our fight against antimicrobials resistance - a major public health issue - I take responsibility for placing health and food safety above trade interests. I take full responsibility for listening to European citizens who want to know what they have on their plate and to make sure that Europe stands to protect them.
This is not a bargaining chip for any future negotiations but simply showing respect for public interest and democracy.
Françoise Grossetête is a French Member of the European Parliament.
Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the authors.