MEPs set to approve plan to protect zoo animals

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Series Details Vol.4, No.25, 25.6.98, p4
Publication Date 25/06/1998
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Date: 25/06/1998

By Myles Neligan

MEPs and animal welfare campaigners have welcomed EU environment ministers' agreement last week on EU-wide rules obliging zoos to observe minimum standards of animal welfare or face closure.

The new regulations look set to come into force by the end of this year, despite European Commission President Jacques Santer's insistence before last week's Cardiff summit that such matters would be best left to national governments.

The accord will now have to be approved by the European Parliament before it is formally endorsed by ministers. Most observers believe MEPs will back the measure as its stands, aware that they could upset the delicate compromise deal if they try to toughen it up.

"We have got more or less what we wanted, and will probably not propose any amendments," said UK Socialist MEP Ian White, a member of the Parliament's environment committee. "I personally am delighted that we have turned the debate round and persuaded the Commission that binding EU rules are needed in this area."

The deal was also welcomed by Lesley O'Donnell, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, who said her organisation was "quite happy" with the result. "This new law does not go quite as far as we had hoped, but it is the best we're likely to get," she said.

The measure also enjoys the full support of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the representative body for European zoos.

Under the political agreement struck by environment ministers last week, zoos in the Union would have to apply for an EU-certified licence which would be granted only if they pledged to carry out conservation research and ensure that their animals were kept in appropriate conditions.

All EU zoos would be rigorously inspected as part of the application procedure.

Animal welfare groups, MEPs and a clear majority of EU countries supported an initial proposal drawn up by the Commission in 1991 for mandatory animal welfare rules in zoos. But the institution decided to downgrade the measure three years later to a non-binding recommendation, on the grounds that national authorities were better placed to enforce such regulations.

Then, in March this year, the UK presidency took up the Parliament's call for the measure to be transformed into binding legislation, and persuaded other EU countries to fall into line.

However, many of the original proposal's stringent animal welfare requirements had to be sacrificed during ministerial negotiations.

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