Is the EU stopping the government from banning wild animals in circuses?

Much of the work we do here relates to animal welfare. Whether it’s long distance transportation of horses, minimum standards for animals used in medical testing or a ban on the import of seal products, most of the groundings for animal welfare rules are done at European level. However, national governments obviously still have a big role to play in protecting the rights of animals.

Recently the UK Parliament has been debating a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. Clearly it is cruel and unnecessary to make animals such as elephants, lions and tigers perform in circus shows, and a recent poll showed that nearly 90% of the public would support such a ban.

The Tory-led government, however, doesn’t seem to want to stop this outdated practice. Junior environment minister Jim Paice claimed that introducing a ban would not be possible because it would go against the European Services Directive. This is another despicable example of the government blaming Europe for ‘stopping’ them from doing something, when the truth is they just don’t want to do it. The government also claimed there was a legal case against the Austrian government who have already banned wild animals in circuses. When Labour MEPs asked the European Commission whether this was true they replied stating “the Commission is not aware and certainly not involved in any legal proceedings in Austrian national courts trying to lift this ban.” Whilst the Commission said that in theory the ban could be against the Services Directive they went on to clearly explain that a ban could “be justified by overriding reasons of public interest. Animal welfare and animal protection are among the reasons that can justify such a restriction.”

It is not acceptable for the government to use the EU as a shield for difficult questions they don’t want to answer. Currently we’re finalising European legislation on food labelling, and I’m calling for mandatory country of origin labelling for meat and fish when used in processed products such as pork in sausages, beef in lasagne, and chicken in premade sandwiches. Shoppers need this information if they want to choose products which use meat that hasn’t been transported too far and comes from somewhere with decent animal welfare standards. However the UK government, acting within the European Council, is opposing my plans for labelling meat in processed foods now and is instead trying to delay the process for years, if not decades. I’m sure when asked why such animal welfare measures are not being supported they will blame “Brussels” instead of owning up to their own responsibilities.

It is time for the Tories to engage responsibly with Europe, and I hope that when the wild animal ban is debated in Parliament next week the government will finally admit that there is nothing stopping them from introducing it.

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