Expert panel warns that Brexit trade deals may be the biggest risk to high animal welfare

Future trade deals pose the highest threat to high farm animal welfare standards and protecting British farmers from being undercut by lower standard imports, according to an expert panel at the RSPCA post-Brexit higher welfare debate
calendar icon 5 October 2018
clock icon 4 minute read

The warning came at an RSPCA-hosted fringe event at the Conservative party conference on Sunday 30 September.

Agricultural experts claimed that the Government’s commitment to higher animal welfare in farming as we leave the EU could be undermined unless we insist on those same standards when striking international trade deals.

Debating the future of higher welfare farming and British agriculture post-Brexit, the panel included NFU Vice President Stuart Roberts, Agriculture Minister George Eustice MP, Eamonn Ives from think-tank Bright Blue and David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at the RSPCA and was chaired by agricultural journalist Caz Graham.

RSPCA Head of Public Affairs, David Bowles said: “The biggest risk to animal welfare post-Brexit would be the wrong kind of trade deal - or no trade deal at all. Ensuring animal products that are imported to the UK meet our high welfare standards must be a priority not just for animal welfare reasons but also to protect the integrity of UK food and the commercial viability of UK farming.

“So it’s good that the Government and the farming industry are on the same page as us, recognising that we must get trade agreements right if we are to maintain and even improve animal welfare after we leave the EU.

“We’d also like to see the commitment to protecting our domestic animal welfare standards enshrined in law, in either the Agriculture or Trade Bill.”

NFU Vice President Stuart Roberts acknowledged the government’s commitment to the highest possible farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit, but raised concerns about how that could be delivered against the Government’s ambition to strike trade deals across a global stage.

He said: “It is one thing to have the highest standards domestically in the UK but we have to use those same standards and ethics when it comes to future trade deals. Because otherwise all we’ll do is give politicians and consumers the opportunity to export their consciences.”

Reiterating his commitment to protecting UK animal welfare standards in any future trade deals George Eustice MP, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: “The way we treat animals is the hallmark of a civilised society... we won’t give up or change our standards in pursuit of a deal.”

Mr Eustice added that the new Agriculture Bill (Second Reading 10 October), will contain provision for animal welfare payments to incentivise farms, something the RSPCA has called for, and that funding for animal welfare pilot schemes will start from 2020 and could be given prioritised funding.

Bright Blue’s environment specialist Eamonn Ives struck an ambitious note, suggesting that Brexit could be used to trigger a “race to the top” on standards, for example, by banning certain products that use cruel and unpopular production methods, such as foie gras. He also urged people to look to the future and think about how food is produced and whether there is a role, for example, for lab grown meat.

The panel also agreed that consumers need to be empowered to make better decisions about the meat and animal products they buy. They welcomed the definition of animal welfare as a public good, something which is supported by the public*, as well as the holistic approach to food production, animal health and animal welfare in the forthcoming Agriculture Bill.

The panel also agreed that consumers should be given the best information to make informed decision about the animal products they buy.

England has, to date, not funded animal welfare programmes as part of its farm support payments but many other places have, with over 50 very varied programmes in 15 countries which demonstrate real welfare outcomes.

*52% of respondents to the Defra consultation on the forthcoming new Agriculture Bill prioritised animal welfare as the number one public good.

As reported by RSPCA

Ryan Johnson

Editor at The Poultry Site

Ryan worked in conservation from 2008 to 2017, during which time he operated a rainbow trout hatchery and helped to maintain public and protected green spaces in Canada for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. As editor of The Poultry Site, he now writes about challenges and opportunities in agriculture across the globe.

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