Case Law: Case C-1/96, The Queen v. Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, ex parte Compassion in World Farming Limited [ 1998] ECR 1-1251

6 Colum. J. Eur. L. 115 (2000)

Dr Geert Van Calster, LL.M., Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Environmental and Energy Law, K.U.Leuven; S J Berwin & Co.

Facts of the Case and the Legislation at Issue

The United Kingdom High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench division, referred to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling, two questions on the interpretation of Articles 29 and 30 EC (previously Articles 34 and 36 EC), and on the validity of Council Directive 91/629, laying down minimum standards for the protection of calves (the Directive).

These questions were raised in proceedings brought by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and Compassion in World Farming (Compassion). They opposed the refusal by the UK Government to restrict, on the basis of Article 30 EC, the export of calves for rearing in veal crates. The UK prohibits the “veal crate system,” whereby calves at one or two weeks old, are placed in individual box-like structures, where they remain until slaughter approximately five months later. The system is still widely used throughout the Community and it is not as such not prohibited by the Directive, as it was applicable at the time.

The Directive fulfils one of the aims provided for by the common organization of the market in beef and veal (Regulation 805/68). It has certain characteristics which were crucial in the applicants’ submission.

Firstly, it lays down minimum standards only, as its title already indicates. It expressly provides, in Article 11 (2), that Member States may, “in accordance with the general rules of the Treaty,” maintain or apply “within their territories” stricter provisions.

Next, the measures are subject to review in the light of scientific progress. This is indicated by the brief given to the Commission, to amend the minimum requirements “to take account of scientific progress,” and by the express provision that the Commission submit a report to the Council before 1 October 1997. This report was to asses the well-being of calves in intensive farming systems, and has led to the 1997 amendments.

Further, the Directive provides for long transitional periods, delaying the entry into force of important parts of its regime until 2007.

Finally, the minimum standards fall significantly short of international provisions in this area. The European Convention (Council of Europe) on the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes (the Convention), approved by the EEC Council, calls for the treatment of animals, appropriate to their physiological and ethological needs, in accordance with established experience and scientific knowledge. It adds that this precludes restriction of the animals in such a manner as to cause unnecessary suffering or injury. A “Standing Committee” issues recommendations. One such Recommendation, adopted in 1988, states that cattle accommodation should allow sufficient freedom of movement, and sufficient room to lie down, to freely stretch the limbs, etc. The Recommendation is to be implemented according the method that each Party considers appropriate. Appendix C to this Recommendation was adopted in 1993, and is more particularly devoted to veal calves. It includes requirements with respect to the diet of calves, for instance that it contain a sufficient quantity of iron and roughage.

The Directive cites the Convention, but fails to conform to its standards. Importantly, whilst the Directive’s Annex foresees in a minimum quantity of dried feed containing digestible fibers, it expressly excludes this requirement for the production of veal calves for white meat.

The Minister refused to ban the exports. He argued that he had no power to do so, given his view that Article 30 EC would prohibit any such move. The applicants sought judicial review with the High Court, which consulted the European Court. It asked whether a Member State, which has implemented the Recommendation, may rely on Article 30 EC and, in particular, on the grounds of public morality, public policy or the protection of the health or life of animals, to justify restrictions on the export of live calves to prevent them from being reared in the veal crate systems used in other Member States. It added whether, if the answer to the first question would be in the negative, Directive 91/629 would have to be considered invalid.