Letter: US trade war

Sir: The biggest threats facing animal welfare today are the free- trade rules of the the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt), enforced by the World Trade Organisation. Already, two key European Union animal protection measures - the ban on the import of furs from countries using the leghold trap, and the prohibition of the marketing of cosmetics tested on animals - have largely been unravelled as a result of EU fears of WTO challenges. We are facing the same problem in trying to resist the import of genetically modified foods from the US.

Moreover, the Gatt/WTO is making it increasingly difficult for the EU to introduce new animal welfare measures. The WTO allows the EU to ban a cruel rearing system within its own territory, but the inability under the WTO to ban the import of meat or eggs derived from animals reared in that cruel system in practice strongly deters the EU from banning the system within its own jurisdiction. The main reason why the EU is reluctant to ban the battery cage is that under Gatt rules it could not ban the import of battery eggs.

The EU must include the animal welfare problem among its negotiating objectives for the WTO Millennium Round, a new round of negotiations starting in 2000, at which there is an opportunity to get new rules agreed.