Shell-shocked Eurosceptics get the dry facts on lowly molluscs

EUROMYTHS

SARAH HELM

Brussels

As Tory Eurosceptics commence their campaign for the next election, it is no coincidence that tales poking fun at Brussels have started to appear in the British press. The most successful Euro-myth doing the rounds is a report suggesting that the European Union's animal-welfare rules should apply to shellfish.

"Mussels must be given rest breaks and oysters given stress-relieving showers during transportation," said a report in the Daily Telegraph last week, citing a European Union directive. Ho, ho, ho, chortled Euro- sceptics. "Silly old Brussels.''

If the story is true, the European Commission's rules are patently absurd. At the week-end, however, Commission officials were still adamantly denying the report, condemning it as little but a smear by Europhobes. So where did the report come from? Who spread it, and why?

There is, indeed, a Brussels directive, agreed in 1991, on animal welfare, which sets out regulations for animal transport. The rules say all cold- blooded beasts must be regularly watered and rested. The directive was introduced largely to safeguard against cruelty to livestock, but was widely drawn and a casual glance might suggest it is applicable to all forms of animal life - including shellfish. The annexes are particularly loosely drafted. However, there is a paragraph in the directive which allows for exceptions. The measures should only be applied "where appropriate to the species concerned".

It is clear that the Commission intended national governments, when adapting their laws in line with EU directives, to use common sense.

Should there ever have been any doubt about the application of the law, a new directive is being introduced that will close the loopholes, specifically excluding shellfish and other species for which the measures would be "inappropriate". The resting and feeding rules now will apply only to "domestic solipeds, domestic animals of the bovine, ovine, caprine or porcine species''.

Inquiries reveal that the shellfish story resulted from remarks by none other than Angela Browning, a junior British agriculture minister. She let it be known to sympathetic ears in Westminster that if it had not been for the British government the Brussels bureaucrats would have happily applied their welfare rules to every species under the sun. It was only because of British insistence that the rules were tightened, Ms Browning asserted. "What is appropriate for transporting sheep is very different from what is appropriate for transporting mussels," she observed - as if the Brussels bureaucrats needed her to tell them that.

This was enough for John Whittingdale, Tory MP for Colchester South and Maldon (home of many shellfish producers) to put out a press release on the issue. The legislation was dreamt up by "unthinking bureaucrats" and will "threaten the livelihood of large numbers of people", he said. As Commission officials struggled to be heard, his words were widely reported.

What the minister never acknowledged was that Brussels had no intention of applying its livestock rules to shellfish. At worst, there may have been some casual drafting in the original directive. But Ms Browning never quoted the "where appropriate" clause.

The biggest danger presented by the directive, as Ms Browning well knew, was that, without detailed clarification, some daft bureaucrat in Whitehall would start applying the Euro law too vigorously to everything from shrimps to swordfish, making a mockery (deliberately, some might say) of the whole thing.

The minister also failed to remind people that it was the British government - under pressure from the animal welfare lobby in Britain - that pushed hardest of all EU member-states for the animal-welfare rules in the first place.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links