Official Journal of the European Union

C 157/70

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council introducing humane trapping standards for certain animal species’

(COM(2004) 532 final — 2004/0183(COD))

(2005/C 157/11)

On 14 September 2004, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 175 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 the subject, adopted its opinion on 16 November 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Donnelly.

At its 413th plenary session of 15 and 16 December 2004 (meeting of 16 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 60 votes to one, with 6 abstentions.

I.   Introduction

1.   The leg-hold trap regulation


In 1989, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution calling for a ban on leghold traps in the EU and on furs and fur products derived from countries using leghold traps.

As a response, the Commission submitted a Proposal for Regulation on the issue, which was adopted by the by Council in 1991 (1). The Regulation bans the use of leghold traps in the EU from 1 January 1995 and the import of pelts from 13 named species from third countries unless one of the following conditions are met:

Adequate administrative or legislative provisions in force to prohibit the use of leghold traps or

The trapping methods used for the 13 species mentioned (Annex I of the EU Regulation) would meet internationally agreed humane trapping standards


It is worth noting that the European Parliament in its opinion called for a ban on the sale of leghold traps and for a phasing out of furs and fur products derived from animals trapped with leghold traps. This opinion has not been taken into account by the Council in its deliberation in 1991.


Although the use of leghold traps has been banned in the EU since 1995, this has not been the case in countries exporting fur products derived from animals trapped with leghold traps.

In its Opinion of 1990 (2) the EESC, while stressing the importance of achieving consistency on this issue, not only supported a European ban on leghold traps, but also proposed an international ban for them.

2.   The Agreement


Following the Community leghold trap legislation, the need of establishing trapping standards at international level became prominent. An agreement was negotiated between the EU, Canada, Russia and the US. However only Canada, Russia and the EU signed it. The US could not become a Party to this Agreement given that competence in this field is decentralized within the US domestic system. However, the US agreed in implementing a weaker version of the Agreement.


The Agreement was negotiated in order to prevent a possible European import ban on fur products from animal trapped in the wild from countries that had not banned leghold traps.


In the European Parliament's opinion, the Agreement was totally inadequate and ineffective and should have been rejected and instead an import ban on fur and fur products originated from wildlife animals listed into the Agreement should have been introduced.


The Agreement prescribes certain standards, which must be respected when animals are trapped. It was ratified by the European Community in 1997. The trapping standards included in the Agreement reflected standards already existing in Russia, Canada and the US. The inclusion of the term ‘humane’ was very controversial, given that these standards are based on the acceptance of high level of suffering for the trapped animals.


Scientific opinions (including the one from the Commission's Scientific and Veterinary Committee) confirmed that the humane trapping methods included into the Agreement did not exclude unacceptable levels of suffering.


The Scientific Committee stressed that the essential criteria to be used in judging the degree of humaneness were the time taken to render the animal insensible to pain and the amount of pain and stress caused to the animal during this period. The Committee concluded that to be considered ‘humane’ a killing trap should render an animal insensible to pain instantaneously, or at least within a few seconds. The Agreement set instead a maximum time limit of 5 minutes and therefore the term ‘humane’ was considered inappropriate.


The Committee also concluded that the injury scale included into the Agreement had no valid scientific basis in comparison with other well-established methods of assessing poor welfare.


Presently the EU and Canada have ratified the Agreement, but Russia has not yet ratified it. For this reason the Agreement's enforcement is still pending. However, Canada and the EU agreed to in any case implement the provisions of the agreement during the pending period.

3.   Gist of the Commission Proposal


The Commission Proposal for a Directive introducing humane trapping standards for certain animal species (3) aims at transposing the Agreement on humane trapping standards into Community legislation, as foreseen by Council Decision 98/142/EC and 98/487/EC.


The Proposal applies to 19 wild species (5 of which live in the EU), as defined in Annex 1.


The Proposal sets some obligations and requirements concerning trapping methods, use of traps, trappers, research, penalties and certification. The text also includes a large series of possible derogations, and two annexes (Annex II and III) relating to humane trapping standards and testing of trapping methods.


The Proposal highlights that Member States can be allowed to implement stringent legislation on the issue and the 1991 EU regulation banning the use of leghold trap remains in force. The implementation and enforcement falls under the competence of the Member States and their competent authorities. No Community budget line is included into the Proposal, Member States will therefore allocate financial resources for covering the costs involved.

II.   Comments

4.   The use of the term ‘humane trapping standards’


In the EESC's view, the use of the term ‘humane’ (4) in the Proposal is questionable. Article 2 defines ‘trapping methods’ but it does not include a definition of ‘humane trapping standards’. In fact the Agreement's text (which inspires the Proposal) recognizes in its Preamble the absence of international trapping standards, and generally relates the word ‘humane’ with those standards which would ‘ensure a sufficient level of welfare of trapped animals’.


At the time of the negotiation of the Agreement, the Scientific and Veterinary Committee of the Commission (5) commented that the standards indicated in the text could not be defined as ‘humane’ (as already stressed before), given that the maximum time allowed to render the animal insensible to pain was far beyond the acceptable length (instantaneous death). Particular emphasis was put on drowning traps as it was estimated that semi-aquatic mammals trapped underwater may take up to 15 minutes to die.


The Committee therefore recommends that the word ‘humane’ be replaced by an alternative and more appropriate term in the text of the final EU legislation, at least until the trapping standards meet the requirements described above.

5.   Traps


The Proposal covers two types of traps: killing traps and restraining traps. In relation to killing traps, the standards set in the Proposal clearly do not meet the scientific standards agreed upon by the Community, which recommend instantaneous death or a maximally tolerable threshold time of 30 seconds before death. In relation to restraining traps (traps used for catching animals alive) the Proposal does not provide specifications relating to the traps nor definitions of the purposes of the restraint of the animals. In addition, the Proposal does not set any welfare standards in the case of killing of restrained animals. This means that if an animal is caught in a restraining trap and killed afterwards, the killing method d is not regulated.

Furthermore, the Proposal does not ensure that authorised trapping methods would not accidentally kill or restrain untargeted species. Trapping standards should ensure that this risk is reduced to the lowest possible level.

6.   Testing


The Proposal foresees technical provisions for the testing of trapping methods, which do not exclude the use of live animals. For both compound and field-testing minimum requirements are laid down. Furthermore, tests performed by a Party to the Agreement can be recognised by the other Parties.


However, for results to be valid, tests must be performed under the same conditions as those in which the traps are destined to be used. Therefore parameters based on the results of compound tests cannot be used for evaluating the welfare of animals living in the wild. For the above reasons testing on animals should not be applicable at all and only the already available computer simulation tests should be considered.

7.   Derogations


The Proposal lists a large spectrum of possible derogations that, if implemented, could fully undermine the scope of the Proposal itself. The EESC believes that derogations relating to public safety and to human and animal health should be allowed. In this case, public authorities should immediately inform and ask the advise of the operators working on the territory (e.g. farmers) where such problems take place. The EESC has some reservations with regard to the other proposed derogations.


Given the difficulty in applying an effective monitoring and enforcement system in the wild, where the trapping takes place, the derogations proposed (except for those indicated above) by the Commission would only help undermine transparency and accountability among Parties of the Agreement.

8.   Trappers


The proposal foresees that a system of authorizations and training for trappers should be put in place. However, licensing is not covered and control on trapping methods used by trappers is mainly inapplicable, given that it would have to be performed in the wild. The EESC recommends that a strict system of licensing leading to be harmonized at Community level be set up.

9.   Certification


The Commission's Proposal delegates to the Members States the certification of the trapping methods used and prescribes the mutual recognition of this certification among Member states.

Although this system could be implemented well in the EU, an international certification system should also be set up. In fact, a standard certification system as well as a traceability system should be introduced among the Parties of the Agreement. This system would contribute to ensure transparency and effective implementation of the Agreement.

10.   Sanctions


The Commission's Proposal refers to possible application of administrative sanctions in case of infringement of the legislation. However, given that some EU member States apply criminal law in case of violation of animal welfare legislation, the EESC recommends that sanctions be imposed according to national systems.

11.   Conclusions


The EESC thinks that the humane trapping standards included in the Proposal are not to be defined as humane, as they just reflect standards indicated by the Agreement. The Agreement's standards have been evaluated as lower than existing animal welfare standards in EU legislation. The Committee therefore recommends replacing the word humane with a more appropriate term in the final text of the legislation.


In relation to traps, the EESC feels that only instantaneous killing traps should be considered and the scope of the use of restraining traps should be specified. Furthermore, where the restrained animals are killed, the killing method should, as far as possible, be regulated according to animal welfare legislation.


It is the EESC's view that drowning trap should be forbidden as the Scientific and Veterinary Committee of the Commission concluded they are a cruel killing method because it involves a slow suffocation underwater for the animal.


The EESC notes that even though the Proposal indicates provisions for testing of traps, there is no scientific basis for applying to wild animals parameters based on results from tests performed in a compound environment. The EESC therefore recommends to not use any animals for testing and to instead use the already available computer simulation.


The EESC thinks that most of the derogations included in the proposal could, in some cases, allow actors involved in the issue to fully escape the application of the legislation, and therefore recommends that the competent authorities grant derogations based on public safety, and human and animal health. This aspect is important in light of the fact that controls and monitoring are difficult to apply in the wild.


In the EESC's view, a transparent system of licensing of trappers should be put in place in the EU. The Proposal fully delegates to the Member States' authorities the establishment of training and authorization requirements for trappers. The EESC fears that this will lead to an un-harmonized system, which would not guarantee implementation of the welfare standards in the EU.


The EESC believes that an effective certification and traceability system should be implemented among Parties of the Agreement to ensure effective implementation.


The EESC recommends that sanctions be applied according to national animal welfare legislation in case of infringement of the proposed legislation.


The EESC recommends that the timetable of implementation of the provisions foreseen in the Proposal should be stricter. According to the Proposal, traps should conform to the proposed standards as from 2009 and trapping methods as from 2012. The EESC feels that all provisions should be implemented as soon as possible.

Brussels, 16 December 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND

(1)  Council Regulation 3254/91, OJ L 308, 9/11/1991

(2)  Opinion on the proposal for a Council Regulation on the importation of certain furs, OJ C 168 of 10.7.1990, page 32

(3)  COM(2004) 532 final

(4)  In February 1994 the Working Committee established under ISO (International Standardization Organization) to discuss humane trapping standards, decided to remove the word ‘humane’ from the title of the standards. At this meeting it was agreed to remove all references to ‘humane’ or ‘humaneness’. An agreement on trapping standards could not be reached under ISO. During ISO negotiations, European vets highlighted that anything longer that 15 seconds to kill an animal is not to be defined as humane killing and clearly no submersion traps could be considered. These points, among others, have not been considered when drafting the final text of the Agreement.

The Opinion of the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the European Commission (1994) concluded that to be considered ‘humane’ a killing trap should render the animal insensible to pain instantaneously, and that more attention should be paid also to the design of traps, in order to take account of the behaviour of non-target species, to avoid their capture or injury. The Committee concluded that the proposed injury scale, having no scientific basis, is unacceptable as a measure of humaneness.

(5)  Opinion from the Scientific Committee established under CITES regulation, 1995; Scientific Committee Opinion, DG Agriculture, 1994.