By NICK MAYS, News & Features Editor
THE EUROPEAN Parliament has this month adopted a report on a proposed EU-wide ban on trading in cat and dog fur. The first-reading debate scraps an exemption allowing trade in fur from cats and dogs if they were ‘not bred or killed for fur production’. MEPs feared that this would leave a ‘gaping loophole’ in the legislation, which traders would quickly exploit.
As previously reported in December 2003, the EU Parliament adopted a declaration calling on the European Commission to draft a regulation banning the import, export, sale and production of cat and dog fur and skins.
Three years later – after a public outcry over evidence that cat and dog fur products were still entering the EU, despite a voluntary code of conduct adopted by European fur traders – Parliament got its wish.
‘The placing on the market and the import to or export from the Community of fur of cats and dogs and products containing such fur shall be prohibited,’ stipulates Article 1 of the draft regulation proposed by the Commission. The committee backed this element of the legislation by a large majority.
However, they did not back a derogation proposed by the Commission to the ban, which would open up the possibility for cat and dog fur to be placed on the EU market provided that the fur (or products containing it) were (a) ‘labelled as originating from cats or dogs that have not been bred or killed for fur production’, or (b) constituted ‘personal or household effects’ introduced into, or exported from, the Community.
Rapporteur Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL, SE) was adamant about doing away with the derogation, saying that it ‘would provide a gaping loophole, which would be ruthlessly exploited by traders of all future consignments of cat and dog fur, thus rendering the entire regulation useless’.
Fellow MEPs agreed, voting to delete the relevant article, and committee chair Arlene McCarthy (PES, UK) echoed their views, saying: ‘We want a ban, not a restriction.’
In the course of negotiations with the Council, MEPs did agree, however, that, ‘by way of exceptional derogation’, the Commission may adopt provisions allowing cat and dog fur on the EU market ‘for educational or taxidermy purposes’.
By entering into negotiations with the Council Presidency ahead of the plenary vote, MEPs have secured a first-reading agreement on the ban.
This means, effectively, that the Council is expected to back the Parliament’s report (i.e. its amendments) and to adopt the legislation without any further changes.
The ban will apply from 31 December 2008.
What the MEPs Said
Several British MEPs took part in the debate on Monday, 18 June, including:
Caroline Lucas (Greens/EFA), who, as draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on International Trade, warmly welcomed Mrs Svensson’s report and congratulated her on her excellent work.
‘It is very clear,’ Ms Lucas stated, ‘that Parliament is united in saying that there should be no derogations that would compromise the integrity and the effectiveness of a ban.
‘However, in terms of this legislation being forthcoming from the Commission, we have had to wait quite a long time.’ Lucas recalled writing to Commissioner Byrne back in 2002 calling for a ban on cat and dog fur. She said that she had been told simply that it was a very complex issue and the Commission was ‘reflecting’.
Lucas added: ‘What worries me about that is that in a sense this slowness is being repeated on another issue that I want to turn your minds to, which is the issue of banning imports of seal products. Again, Parliament is being told that it is a complex issue. Exactly the same language is being used again now, when it comes to seal products, as was used back in 2002 about cat and dog fur.
‘As the draftsperson in the Committee on International Trade, I tabled amendments to the cat and dog proposal, not suggesting that we try to include seals – that would be too much – but at least asking the Commission to bring forward similar legislation to deal with imports of seal products. This was agreed by the Committee on International Trade.
‘The Commissioner said earlier that there was no lack of political will when it came to dealing with the cat and dog issue, what was lacking was an imaginative legal base. I urge the Commissioner and his services to be extraordinarily imaginative and to recognise that Europe’s citizens feel the same revulsion about cat and dog fur as they feel about imports of seal products. We must have legislation coming forward very urgently on that issue as well.’
Fellow MEP Struan Stevenson (EPP-ED), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, expressed his very warm thanks to Mrs Svensson for a brilliant piece of work and a brilliant report.
He also thanked Mrs McCarthy for her dedication and commitment to steering this very important report through Parliament. However, most of all, he expressed his gratitude for the great courage of Commissioner Kyprianou, because, as Mrs Lucas had just said, ‘the previous Commissioner told us that it was impossible and there would never be a legal basis. I remember Commissioner Kyprianou saying to me, ‘As a lawyer, if I went round telling clients that things were impossible, I would never make a living!’ He has fulfilled his pledge.
‘It is music to my ears to hear this debate this evening, because it has taken eight years to get this far, with the help of Humane Society International. Betsy Dribben, who used to work for Humane Society International, has flown over from Washington and is in the public gallery tonight, and many thanks are due to her for her dogged campaigning.
‘Humane Society International estimates that, every year, about two million cats and dogs are killed in China alone to supply the fashion market in Europe with items like this little toy, which the rapporteur mentioned – little cats, which mums and dads buy for their kids because they are cat and dog lovers, not realising that they have been made out of real cat and dog skin from animals that have been brutally killed. The trade buys these cat skins to make collars for trim for parka hoods and ski boot and ski glove linings and all sorts of fashion items.
‘This has been a perpetrated fraud on the public. The public are never told that they are buying real items of cat and dog fur. Sometimes it is even dyed to look like fake fur and given false labels to fool the public. I am glad that, at long last, there will very soon be a law on the statute books – a regulation – in all 27 Member States banning this evil trade. I thank the Commissioner and everyone else who has been involved in achieving that.’
Elizabeth Lynne (ALDE) welcomed the fact that several EU countries – France, Italy, Denmark, Greece and Belgium – moved unilaterally to ban the trade. However, she said, there are differences in the approaches of other Member States, ranging from bans on rearing and slaughter to labelling requirements. ‘These differences can cause problems for consumers, retailers and traders alike. That is why, as we all know, an EU-wide ban is so important if we want an end to this vile trade.
‘We have already heard that two million dogs and cats are slaughtered each year for their fur and that it takes at least ten dogs and up to 24 cats to make a single coat. These animals live in horrific conditions and many are skinned alive. Since the US brought in a ban, more cat and dog fur is coming into the EU. The problem is that many customers do not know what they are buying, as cat and dog fur is quite often labelled as fake fur. It is also included in a variety of products other than clothing, such as some homeopathic medicines, children’s toys and accessories.’
Concluding, Ms Lynne welcomed the debate and vote to follow and congratulated the Commissioner on his commitment.