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EU agriculture ministers and chief veterinary officers visit Finland

EU agricultural ministers visited a Finnish dairy farm

In september 2019, EU agriculture ministers visited Finland and chief veterinary officers had a meeting at Finlandia Hall in Helsinki. Topics of the dairy farm visit in a group of ministers of ​​over 200 people included animal welfare and health, as well as responsible use of antibiotics in animals. The meeting of the chief veterinary officers sought a common view of the Member States on promotion of animal welfare in the EU.

Agricultural ministers on a crash course for animal welfare

Monday morning was frosty clear in Vihti and the countryside at its most beautiful when the EU agricultural ministers’ bus arrived in Moksi to visit Harjula dairy farm. Ministers were provided with several info desks at the farm to discuss animal welfare and health issues, grass based feeding and farm digitalisation.

At the animal welfare stand, ministers received a quick overview of the definition of animal welfare by Satu Raussi from the Finnish Centre for Animal Welfare. Welfare is an animal’s own experience of its current state, and can range from good to bad. There are two ways to promote well-being: by removing negative experiences (such as pain and fear) from the animal’s life, and by providing the animal with positive, pleasurable experiences.

For example, in a dairy farm where calves are disbudded, negative experiences can be eliminated by providing effective pain management. Sedation, local anesthesia and long-lasting analgesics given by a veterinarian are needed for the calf. Grazing is a positive experience for cows: when grazing, cows are able to satisfy their species-specific behavioral needs, move freely, and eat grass while socializing.

The informal meeting of the EU agriculture ministers was held in Helsinki from 22 to 24 September. The main role was played by soil carbon sequestration as an agricultural climate action. The meeting was hosted by Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä.

The chief veterinary officers’ meeting full of animal welfare

On Wednesday, Finland also welcomed EU chief veterinary officers, whose three-day meeting began with a tight-knit meeting at the Finlandia Hall. Topics discussed at the meeting included animal welfare in livestock production, online internet sales of pet animals, antibiotic resistance and African swine fever, and food scams.

Several languages ​​were heard at the meeting – there were 11 simultaneous interpreters speaking in five different languages to the headphones of the participants ​​in real time. At least the effectiveness of the cooperation did not hit a language barrier!

In her opening speech, Jaana Husu-Kallio, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, emphasized the importance of research information in the context of animal welfare decision-making: “Research-based knowledge deserves respect. It is the best basis for negotiating with anyone on any subject. ”

Towards Council conclusions to promote animal welfare

The Finnish Presidency has set an ambitious but realistic objective of formulating a common policy statement for the EU Commission on the future of animal welfare. The position, formally referred to as the Council conclusions, is not legally binding, but it may invite the Commission to take measures to promote the matter under consideration. The Council conclusions are an unanimous position adopted by all Member States, which gives it greater weight in the Commission compared with a position of a single country.

The conclusions were based on a survey, conducted by Finland, to all EU chief veterinary officers. The need for a new EU animal welfare legislation, a common animal welfare labeling, operation of various animal welfare research and discussion forums, and the role of animal welfare in EU trade negotiations with non-EU countries were raised in the responses of the member states. The results of the questionnaire were thoroughly discussed at the meeting, and  joint conclusions will be drawn on the basis of the replies and negotiations. The aim is to bring the conclusions to the EU Agriculture Council at the end of the year.

Visiting a happy pig farm on a coffee break

For lunch and coffee breaks, VR (virtual reality) glasses were provided to the meeting delegates to get acquainted with the straw pig production at Ollikkala pig farm. Free group farrowing in Ollikkala with a thick straw mat covering the pig’s floors and the immunocastration of the male piglets aroused the viewers’ well-deserved admiration. However, it had to be said that this is not a common method of producing piglets in Finland – yet.