Official Journal of the European Union

C 88/13

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Directive on animal health requirements for aquaculture animals and products thereof, and on the prevention and control of certain diseases in aquatic animals and the Proposal for a Council Decision amending Decision 90/424/EEC on expenditure in the veterinary field

(COM(2005) 362 final — 2005/0153 and 0154 CNS)

(2006/C 88/04)

On 15 September 2005, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 37 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on this subject, adopted its opinion on 25 January 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Fakas.

At its 424th plenary session of 14 and 15 February 2006 (meeting of 14 February), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 145 votes with one abstention.

1.   Conclusion


The EESC considers the proposals put forward to be a move in the right direction and endorses the measures recommended to prevent and control certain diseases in aquatic animals.

2.   Explanatory statement


Aquaculture is a very important sector for the Community, especially in rural and coastal regions. In 2004, the EU aquaculture sector was producing fish, molluscs and crustaceans to a value of over EUR 2.5 billion. However, financial losses due to disease (mortalities, reduced growth and reduced quality) are estimated to be 20 % of the production value. The proposal aims to introduce modern and targeted legislation that reduces these costs; if they could be reduced by only 20 %, the result would be an added value of EUR 100 million per year.


The existing legislation was developed two decades ago when the EU had only 12 Member States. It was primarily designed to protect the main EU aquaculture species at that time, namely salmonid (trout and salmon) and oyster farming. The legislation now needs to be updated to reflect the broader range of aquaculture practises and species that are found in the expanded EU, and to take account of the significant developments within the industry, the experience gained through 15 years of application of the existing legislation, as well as scientific advances in this field. The rules must also be updated to bring EU rules in line with international agreements and standards (like the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and the World Organisation for Animal Health).

3.   Background


This proposal will repeal the existing primary legislation (Council Directives 91/67/EEC, 93/53/EEC and 95/70/EC) and replace those three Directives with one new Directive. The purpose of the new directive is to update, recast and consolidate the animal health rules in relation to the trade in aquaculture products, including disease prevention and control, in order to improve the competitiveness of EU aquaculture producers.


It contains general requirements directed towards the aquaculture production business and processing establishments, such as authorisations, and provisions related to their operation.


It provides for animal health rules governing the placing on the market of aquaculture animals and products, as well as health rules on imports into the Community of aquaculture animals from third countries.


Provisions are proposed for the notification and control of certain diseases, as well provisions for declaring disease-free zones.


Requirements are also to be introduced for the competent authorities of the Member States and for laboratories, and guidelines are also laid down in annexes.


The legal basis for the proposal is Treaty Article 37. The principle of proportionality is to apply, and the financial impact on the Community budget is expected to be limited.


The budget implications of the proposal mainly concern two areas:


economic compensation in relation to disease control, and


implementation of primary legislation and adoption and management of secondary legislation.


The second proposal for a Council decision envisages the necessary amendments of the current procedures governing the Community's financial contribution towards veterinary measures in aquaculture animals, laid down in Council Decision 90/424/EEC, in order to take into account the proposals for a new aquatic animal health Directive and the European Fisheries Fund.


Under the second proposal Member States are allowed to use the budget set up under Operational Programmes according to Title ΙΙΙ of the European Fisheries Fund for the combating and eradication of certain diseases in aquaculture animals.


The procedures for financial support must be in line with the current procedures applicable to financial contribution for control and eradication of terrestrial animal diseases.


The principle of proportionality also applies for the second proposal, and likewise the legal basis is Treaty Article 37.


Under the second proposal future financial contributions for aquatic animal disease eradication from the Community should be eligible through the European Fisheries Fund (Article 32 of COM(2004) 497). It is therefore difficult to estimate the impact of the proposal on the European Fisheries Fund, as this will depend on the size of the farm(s) affected, the value of the animals in farm(s), etc.

4.   General comments


Existing Community legislation only covers the farming of salmon, trout and oysters. Since that legislation was adopted, the aquaculture industry (farming of crustaceans, mussels, clams, etc.) has developed significantly. The EESC therefore believes it is advisable and necessary to amend the legislation so as to cover the other aquatic animals cultivated by aquaculture producers.


The EESC welcomes these proposals because they represent an important effort to prevent and control diseases in aquatic animals.


The EESC believes that in order to ensure the rational development of the aquaculture sector and to increase productivity, aquatic animal health rules should be laid down at Community level. These rules are necessary in order to contribute to the completion of the internal market and to avoid the spread of infectious diseases. Legislation should be flexible and take into account developments in and the diversity of the sector.


The EESC thinks that measures at Community level should be accompanied by efforts to increase the awareness and preparedness of the competent authorities in the Member States with respect to the prevention, control and eradication of aquatic animal diseases.


The current EU system for granting authorisations is particularly strict, laying down requirements that are more rigorous than those of the EU's competitors. This has implications for the viability of the sector. The EESC believes that the requirements are covered by the proposed register of businesses, which contains details of each business's processing system, the aquaculture business operator and the existing aquaculture authorisation.


It is considered necessary to ensure that aquatic animal diseases at Community level do not spread. It is therefore essential for harmonised health provisions to be established for the placing on the market of aquaculture products, and for a list of diseases and susceptible species to be drawn up.


The EESC believes that in order to ensure early detection of any possible outbreak of aquatic animal disease, it is necessary to oblige those in contact with aquatic animals of susceptible species to notify any suspect case to the competent authorities.


Routine, non-routine and emergency inspections should be carried out in the Member States in order to ensure that aquaculture production business operators are familiar with, and apply, the general rules on disease control.


There is a continuous development in knowledge with respect to hitherto unknown diseases in aquatic animals. The EESC therefore believes it is essential for all the Member States and the Commission to be informed if an emerging disease is present or suspected, and to be notified of any control measures taken.


In order to safeguard the aquatic animal health situation in the Community, it is considered necessary to ensure that consignments of live aquaculture animals transiting through the Community comply with the relevant health requirements. It is also necessary to ensure that aquaculture animals and products imported from third countries are free of any infectious diseases.

5.   Specific comments


The EESC accepts the view that special provisions should not be laid down applicable to the placing on the market of ornamental and other aquatic animals, which are kept under controlled conditions (aquariums or ponds). However, where such aquatic animals are kept outside closed systems or aquariums, or come into contact with the natural waters of the Community, the EESC considers that the general health provisions of the present directive should apply. This is particularly the case for carp populations (Cyprinidae), as popular ornamental fish such as koi-carp are susceptible to certain diseases.


The Member States must lay down rules on penalties applicable for infringements of the provisions of the directive. The EESC considers that those penalties must be effective.


Article 5 (2) states that before a Member State decides to refuse to authorise an aquaculture production business as defined in Article 4, consideration should be given to risk mitigation strategies, including possible alternative siting of the activity in question. However, the EESC is aware that alternative siting is often not feasible in the case of tanks containing zoonotic agents among wild fish stocks. The EESC believes that the risk of such diseases can be mitigated by sound management practices, keeping such stocks in closed and controlled systems, maintaining good hygiene practices, and applying the animal health monitoring system and all the other measures proposed in the present Council directive.

Brussels, 14 February 2006.

The president

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND