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The Questions – The Answers by MEP candidates

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We asked MEP candidates to answer our ten questions. All the ten questions are all related to vegan and animal rights issues. Below the answers we are updating the answers of those that actually answered.

Alternattiva Demokratika: Mina Tolu | Carmel Cacopardo

Partit Demokratiku:  Godfrey Farrugia

Partit Laburista: Fleur Vella | Felix Busuttil | James Grech | Lorna Vassallo

Partit Nazzjonalista: Michael Brigulio

Brain Not Ego: Antoine P. Borg

Moviment Patrijotti Maltin: Naged Megally

Indipendenti: Arnold Cassola

 

The Ten Questions:

Question 1: Vegan product names

Will you vote to ban the right of free speech and expression and ban vegan products from using words like veggie-burger or vegan-sausage?

Mina Tolu: I would not vote to ban vegan product names like “veggie-burger or vegan-sausage”. People increasingly want to eat plant-based foods and seek alternatives to meat products. I want to make it as easy as possible for them to do that.

Carmel Cacopardo: will not support the ban

Godfrey Farrugia: No, I am for the freedom of opinion, expression, of choice and association

Fleur Vella: No

Felix Busuttil: The right for free speech and expression is a European value .

James Grech: Food labelling is an important aspect of the EU consumer protection legislation. It is important that consumers are well aware of what they are buying and that they are not misled by the description of the product. At the same time, promoting vegetarian and vegan food products can contribute to improve the health of consumers. Since in many countries, such products are not mainstream, their association with other meat-based products which are more popular among consumers can help to promote their consumption among the population. In my opinion, as long as the product name specifies very clearly that the product is vegetarian or vegan, the consumers would not be misled by using names such as veggie-burger or vegan-sausage.

Lorna Vassallo: No. I think it is MOST important to say whether a product is vegetarian.

Michael Brigulio: I will vote against the ban. 

Antoine P Borg: I don’t think there is a need to ban terms like “veggie-burger”. As long as products respect food labelling standards and regulations (e.g. for allergens) then there is no need for any state, or the EU to interfere in naming. Having said this, I don’t agree this is a free-speech issue.

Naged Megally: No

Arnold Cassola: The right to consume vegan products and use the word veggie is sacrosanct.

 

Question 2: Vegan regulation

Do you agree that there should be legally binding definition of the terms vegan and vegetarian, to regulate the market for plant-based products?

Mina Tolu: I agree in principle, as long as it is done in a way that puts the consumer before the industry. This should be done in a way that protects the consumer and gives the consumer easy-access to plant-based food and products that they seek. 

Carmel Cacopardo: yes, agree that terms should be clearly defined

Godfrey Farrugia: Yes

Fleur Vella: Yes

Felix Busuttil: Yes, I agree

James Grech: As highlighted in my reply to the previous question, clear food labelling is very important for protecting consumers. The EU legal framework does not yet provide a binding definition of the terms vegan and vegetarian. At the same time, some countries are moving ahead with their own legislative framework in this regard. In the EU Single Market, national differences in the use of such definitions can be problematic. For Malta this is particularly important since we import most of our food requirements and we import food products from different EU countries. Thus in order to ensure consistent food labelling and safeguard consumer protection, I think it is important that there is a common legal binding definition of the terms vegan and vegetarian across the EU. Having such regulation in place would also help to improve consumer confidence in plant-based products and thus promote their consumption.

Lorna Vassallo: Yes

Michael Brigulio: Yes

Antoine P Borg: A legal definition for vegan or vegetarian would help in the same way having a legal definition of “organic” does. It helps consumers understand what they’re getting and it helps drive standards in the market.

Naged Megally: Yes

Arnold Cassola: Yes

 

Question 3: Common Agricultural Policy

Do you agree that the Common Agricultural Policy (post-2020) should shift from intensive animal agriculture towards more sustainable (plant-based) food production and that this shift must be an essential component in order to combat environmental, climate, animal-welfare, and public-health concerns?

Mina Tolu: I believe that Europe’s CAP should move from industrial agriculture and GMOs to sustainable forms of farming, such as organic and agro-ecological solutions.  This would include the redirection of agricultural subsidies to sustainable farming and the banning of harmful pesticides. It would be ideal to reduce meat consumption in favour of more sustainable plant-based diets. And animals on farms should be guaranteed the right to natural behaviour. No public money should go to industrial animal farming.

Carmel Cacopardo: yes, agree that CAP should be substantially revised to embody environmental and animal welfare concerns

Godfrey Farrugia: Yes

Fleur Vella: Yes

Felix Busuttil: Fully agree

James Grech: Environmental, climate, animal-welfare and public-health concerns are all important aspects to which the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy should contribute post-2020. I would be in favour of specific budgetary instruments and incentives under the CAP for more sustainable food production. At the same time, a shift from intensive animal agriculture towards more plant-based food production requires a deep restructuring of the agricultural sector in various EU countries and may have repercussions on the competitiveness of Europe’s agriculture industry as well as on farmers’ incomes which are also important objectives of the EU’s CAP. Thus, whilst this should be a long-term goal for Europe’s agriculture, it needs to be implemented carefully whilst taking into account the different implications also at a regional level.

Lorna Vassallo: yes

Michael Brigulio: Yes

Antoine P Borg: Like all policies, the CAP should be sustainable yes. Any evidence showing policies aren’t sustainable should invite a review – perhaps even abolishment – of that policy.

Naged Megally: Yes

Arnold Cassola: Yes

 

Question 4: Plant-based dairy alternatives

Do you agree that all plant-based dairy alternatives (like coconut, almond etc) should have the right to use the term milk?  Also do you disagree that in many European countries, plant-based milks are taxed with a higher VAT rate than cow’s milk although they represent eco-friendly alternatives and are used in the same way?

Mina Tolu: I believe in the fluidity of language and agree that these plant-based dairy alternatives should be called milk. Plant-based milks should not have a higher VAT rate.

Carmel Cacopardo: Question is too wide containing many different issues:  it is not possible to give one no or yes to answer all questions

Godfrey Farrugia: No

Fleur Vella: Yes | I disagree they have a higher tax.

Felix Busuttil: Any food alternative especially if healthier should be promoted, be more accessible and more affordable.

James Grech: In 2017, in a case concerning soya and tofu products, the European Court of Justice has ruled that plant-based dairy alternatives cannot be sold using dairy-style names. The ECJ considered that even though the products’ plant origins are clear, consumers could be misled. This ruling reflects the EU regulations in place which state that designations such as milk, butter, cheese, cream and yogurt can only be used in respect of products derived from animal milk. However, similarly to my reply for question 1, in my opinion, as long as the plant-derivation of the product is clearly specified, I do not consider that such designation is problematic.

I also believe that plant-based and dairy products should be treated equally in terms of tax, in order to ensure fair competition and promote the consumption of plant-based products which are not a choice but a health requirement for lactose-intolerant individuals, for example. Thus, different treatment in terms of reduced VAT rate should be addressed at an EU level. On the other hand, the taxation on sugary drinks, which are sometimes applied to plant-based drinks, is a national competence, which should be addressed accordingly.

Lorna Vassallo: Don’t know | I disagree

Michael Brigulio: Yes they should have the right to use the term milk, and they should not be taxed at higher rates than cow’s milk.

Antoine P Borg: I refer to my answer for question 1. For the point about VAT, this is up to each member state to decide.

Naged Megally: No , AND I don’t agree to use higher tax on plant milk than cow’s milk.

Arnold Cassola: There should not be a higher VAT rate for plant-based dairy alternatives

 

Question 5: Fish welfare

Although the number of farmed fish outnumbers that of other sentient beings, fish welfare is not specifically addressed by EU legislation. Do you agree on the need to introduce new rules to protect the welfare of fish particularly at the time of slaughter and during transport?

Mina Tolu: There definitely need to be more rules to protect the welfare of fish. Firstly by fishing within sustainable limits that respect nature’s natural course, and compliance with respecting seasonal closures which allows all fish stocks to recover. Industrial fishing methods like deep-sea bottom-trawling  and other forms are having a huge impact on eco-systems. But not only, as any fish or other animals caught as by-catch die, sometimes slowly, because the industry is too greedy to fish slowly. And that is unacceptable.

Carmel Cacopardo: Agree that welfare of fish should be regulated

Godfrey Farrugia: Yes

Fleur Vella: Yes

Felix Busuttil: Agree

James Grech: The EU has been at the forefront of legislation concerning animal welfare and I think that a similar model can also be applied for fish welfare. However, at the same time, introducing such legislation will require adaptation by the fishing industry, especially fish farms. Thus it is important that any regulations are introduced gradually whilst allowing the sector time to adapt. Furthermore, the EU should also push towards international regulation on this aspect so as to ensure a level-playing field for operators at a global level.

Lorna Vassallo: Yes definely 

Michael Brigulio: Yes

Antoine P Borg: I’m not familiar with data about fish welfare so I reserve the right up update my answer. Broadly, I would favour new and updated rules for all kinds of animals if there is evidence that the new rules will have a beneficial effect on all stakeholders – and that includes the animals.

Naged Megally: Yes

Arnold Cassola: Yes

 

Question 6: Animal cages

Every year, around 700 million farm animals are forcibly confined in cages in the EU, some of them living in cages all their lives. Do you agree that the use of cages should be banned with the introduction of higher welfare farming systems within the EU and for all meat products that are imported inside the EU?

Mina Tolu: I believe that animals have the right to live free from abuse and that cage farming is a nightmare that should end.

Carmel Cacopardo: Agree with banning of animal cages

Godfrey Farrugia: Yes

Fleur Vella: Yes

Felix Busuttil: Yes – support no cages for ALL animals.

James Grech: The confinement of farm animals in cages leads to severe health and welfare issues for the animals concerned. The EU has already adopted measures concerning animal welfare in this regard, for instance by banning specific type of cages for certain species. Whilst I believe that the EU should aim to improve further animal welfare in European farming systems, as highlighted in my previous answers, further measures in this regard need to take into account a broader perspective, including the competitiveness of European farming as well as the impact on food prices.

Lorna Vassallo: Perhaps not totally banned but definitely regulated

Michael Brigulio: Yes

Antoine P Borg: I refer to my answer for question 5. Regarding importation, I do see a logical argument to be made for higher importation duties on any product from outside the EU if certain standards aren’t respected.

Naged Megally: Yes and Yes

Arnold Cassola: Yes

 

Question 7: Animal testing

Whilst the EU has introduced a ban on animal testing for cosmetics, and the recent call for a global ban is applaudable, more that 12 million animals every year are “used” for scientific purposes. Do you agree that the EU should implement a strategy with defined milestones to phase out the use of animals in all research, testing and education, and fund and support the development of alternative methods?

Mina Tolu: Yes.

Carmel Cacopardo: Agree that animal testing should be banned without exceptions

Godfrey Farrugia: Yes

Fleur Vella: Yes

Felix Busuttil: Yes, animal testing is medieval.

James Grech: The EU legislative framework provides for regulation of animal research and ensures high standards of animal welfare in scientific research. These legal requirements are based on three principles, that of replacing animals with other methods when possible, reducing the number of animals used as much as possible without jeopardising scientifically valid results and refining practices to reduce negative impacts on the animals. In my opinion, there is scope to assess whether further measures based on these three Rs principles can be achieved. EU funds can also be used in order to support the development of alternative methods in scientific research.

Lorna Vassallo: Yes, if possible.  If not possible testing should only be allowed on pests such as mice and in case of something vital to human beings i.e. medicine.

Michael Brigulio: Yes

Antoine P Borg: I do agree, but the alternative methods need to be provided before we can ban anything else. I qualify this answer by pointing out that not only am I an organ donor but in case of my death I would like my body donated to science for whatever experimentation can be done. Not everyone may wish to do so, but I would like future doctors to have a proper human body to experiment with and learn from.

Naged Megally: Yes

Arnold Cassola: Yes

 

Question 8: Sentient beings

The Lisbon Treaty recognised that animals are sentient beings. Do you agree that more needs to be done by the EU Parliament to ensure that it is acknowledged in all relevant legislative proposals and policy initiatives?

Mina Tolu: Yes.

Carmel Cacopardo: Agree that more should be done to ensure that welfare of sentient beings is reflected in EU policy and regulation 

Godfrey Farrugia: Yes

Fleur Vella: Yes

Felix Busuttil: I am all out for animal rights – pets should be part and parcel of family as are children. Animals, their habitat, sustainability, existence, dignity should be given priority. The world we live in is theirs as much as it is ours.

James Grech: The Lisbon Treaty was an important step for the protection of animal welfare in the EU since it obliges the Union and member states to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals when formulating and implementing certain EU policies. With this recognition in place, it is important that in its work, the European Parliament exerts the necessary pressure so that the protection of animal welfare is ensured in all the relevant legislation and policy measures. This should not be the prerogative of specific committees but rather should be mainstreamed in European Parliament’s work.

Lorna Vassallo: Yes

Michael Brigulio: Yes

Antoine P Borg: Yes, and we need a continuous debate on the definition of sentience. This definition will change as we continue to make advances.

Naged Megally: Yes

Arnold Cassola: Yes

 

Question 9: Commissioner on Animal Welfare

Do you agree that the Commission should appoint a Commissioner on Animal Welfare which would give a strong signal of commitment to the improvement of the lives of animals.

Mina Tolu: I believe that having a Commissioner on Animal Welfare would give a strong signal of commitment to the improvement of the lives of animals and I would not be opposed to it. 

Carmel Cacopardo: Yes, appointment of a Commissioner responsible for Animal Welfare should eb a good step forward

Godfrey Farrugia: Yes

Fleur Vella: Yes

Felix Busuttil: Yes. Absolutely – and I go further – they should be given legal authority.

James Grech: Appointing a Commissioner on Animal Welfare would show that this is an important priority at an EU level and would also have the advantage of more focused policy-making in the area. Animal welfare concerns are related to agriculture as well as the environment as regards wild animals and there is also the issue of animals used for scientific purposes. On the other hand, animal welfare is intrinsically linked with farming and separating the two sectors may result in certain disadvantages. Finally, one also has to consider the overall size of the Commission.

Lorna Vassallo: Maybe not specifically and exclusively for animal welfare but yes

Michael Brigulio: Yes

Antoine P Borg: I would hope that the Commissioner responsible for agricultural matters right now already handles animal welfare too. I disagree with having another Commissioner because of the expense. I will favour strict KPIs for existing Commissioners so that we taxpayers can ensure they do their jobs.

Naged Megally: Yes

Arnold Cassola: Yes. Though could possibly be a combined portfolio:  e.g. Animal Welfare and sustainable farming

 

Question 10:  Trade

Improving the standards of animal welfare within the EU is not enough. The access to free trade and international trade agreements should not be a loop hole for allowing access inside the Union to products using poor and inadequate welfare conditions. Do you agree that all imports of animal products from non-EU countries must adhere to the animal welfare standards within the EU?

Mina Tolu: On trade: Imported animal products need to adhere to animal welfare standards within the EU; Imported fish need to also meet European conservation standards; Similarly, imported foods should be compliant with EU’s regulations on use of pesticides and GMOs in farming.

Carmel Cacopardo: Agree that trade agreements should not be used to bypass EU policy and legislation, both in respect of environmental as well as anima welfare issues.

Godfrey Farrugia: Yes

Fleur Vella: Yes

Felix Busuttil: What is the use of controlling what is produced and safeguarded on the inside, when the outside states otherwise? Fiato sprecato.

James Grech: The inclusion of animal welfare in the EU’s trade agreements and co-operation with non-EU countries is one of the aims of the European Commission, which tries to raise awareness and establish a common understanding on the issue. In my opinion, this is an important aspect of the EU’s commercial policy which should be pursued, whilst support should also be provided, including technical support, in order to improve animal welfare standards in the EU’s trading partners.

Lorna Vassallo: Yes

Michael Brigulio: Yes

Antoine P Borg: I refer to the second part of my answer for question 6.

Naged Megally: Yes

Arnold Cassola: Yes.

 

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Author: Darryl Grima

Darryl Grima is Veggy Malta's Editor. He has been a vegetarian for over 31 years and recalls a time when Malta was not so vegetarian and vegan friendly. Apart from blogging on vegetarian matters, Darryl is also active in environmental and animal welfare organisations. He holds a Diploma in Political Studies and a Masters in Business Administration.

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