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In mid-December, MEPs met in Strasbourg for the final plenary session of 2012 to debate and vote on a wide variety of issues, including the EU budget for 2013 and a resolution on the protection of animals during transportation.
SNP MEPs voted against an increase in the EU's annual budget for 2013. Across the EU workers providing vital public services are enduring not just real terms freezes but actual pay freezes and, in some cases, actual pay cuts. Our public sector is having to find massive savings in order to function. My view is that the EU simply cannot stand aloof from this reality and demand ever increasing sums of money, especially when there are still examples of very obviously wasteful expenditure such as forcing Euro MPs to shuttle back and forth between 2 meeting places, in Brussels and Strasbourg.
EU regulation already governs certain aspects of the transport of animals in Europe, and the proposal before us followed a Commission report on the impact of the existing regulation on animal welfare during transport, and on the trade flows of live animals. In some cases journeys are being deliberately extended to take advantage of differences in enforcement among member States in mainland Europe. Great differences exist in enforcement and financial penalties. In some countries the penalties are not dissuasive. In short, the existing rules are not being implemented or properly enforced in many EU countries.
The European Commission report had recognised that the number of animals transported since the adoption of the regulation has increased for all species except horses, but they had not been convinced that amending the rules to lay down a fixed time limit, such as a maximum of 8 hours for all journeys, was justified.
The European Parliament's report maintains that animals should be slaughtered as close to place of rearing as possible, and that the EU should promote local processing and help to create short and transparent supply chains. I agree that small scale regional slaughter and processing facilities should be developed. One of the reasons for transporting farm animals over long distances is that small scale abattoirs have found it almost impossible to survive economically, largely due to the amount of EU inspired regulation which they have to comply with.
I fully support the principle of legislation aimed at high levels of animal protection and I accept that legislation relating to transportation can be appropriately dealt with at the EU level. That legislation must however be based in reality and respect must be had for the huge geographical and economic diversity of this continent. Calls in Brussels or Strasbourg to have a blanket ban for journeys over 8 hours ignore those realities. Parts of Scotland's highlands, islands and southern uplands for example are often far from markets or abattoirs and lengthy journeys are simply a necessity.
Fragile local economies producing some of Europe's finest foodstuffs would suffer as a result of such a ban, and I therefore voted against amendments calling for unrealistic and inflexible limits.
Scotland's food production industry is already complying with the full range of EU legislation on animal health and welfare. The EU Commission should ensure that all of our neighbours and competitors do likewise, rather than contemplating the addition of further layers of regulation.