Proposed animal welfare law changes under consideration by the European Commission could potentially see procedures like tail docking, castration and dehorning banned or else subject to mandated pain relief procedures banned across European Union countries, with expected flow on effects for Australian exporters.
The inception impact assessment put out by the European Commission suggests that similar animal welfare requirements as those imposed across the EU could also be applied to imported products of animal origin or that there would labelling requirements detailing whether the product met EU animal welfare requirements.
The document notes that how the animal welfare rules apply to imports would have to be considered in the economic assessment, "notably the impact this requirement would have on non-EU countries, and in particular developing countries as well as the ability for EU consumers to make informed purchasing choices when exposed to (substandard) imported products."
"Animal welfare rules are linked to the process and production methods which in most cases are non-product related, which means that no discernible differences exist in the final products. In sum, EU measures applied to imported products must be compatible with relevant WTO rules."
In a submission to the European Commission, WoolProducers Australia president Ed Storey raised concerns over the regulations being universally applied to goods originating from outside the EU.
"While it may be possible to harmonise regulations for a finite stakeholder group (i.e. EU member states), it becomes increasingly impractical to develop harmonised regulations as the number and diversity of stakeholders increases, while continuing to achieve desired animal welfare outcomes," he wrote.
"Contemporary animal welfare regulation should focus on achieving enhanced animal welfare outcomes that are supported by science and appropriate for the respective production systems, environmental and climatic conditions."
Mr Storey also raised concerns that the proposal infers that tail docking and castration are detrimental to animal welfare.
"The imposition of regulatory requirements, such as the prohibition of husbandry procedures such as tail docking and castration of sheep may result in compromised lifetime welfare outcomes depending on production systems, environmental and climatic conditions," he wrote.
"The imposition of "compliance labelling" could mislead consumers on the animal welfare status of goods, should regulatory requirements fail to be fit for all purposes."
A public consultation period for the proposal ended on January 22, with the commission adoption phase of legislation review upcoming.
The result of the assessment of impacts will be published on the European Commission website.
It comes as the European Commission also works through its Product Environmental Footprinting labelling project, which is expected to have impacts for wool imported to European Union countries.
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