Brexit: Ministers warned not to weaken animal-welfare laws after UK leaves EU

Calls for sentience to be enshrined in law when UK quits EU - as promised by Michael Gove

Jane Dalton
Tuesday 19 February 2019 19:46
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Animals exported in bitterly cold weather

Ministers have been warned not to water down animal protection laws after Brexit, as a poll found eight in 10 people believed they should be maintained or strengthened when Britain leaves the European Union (EU).

Thirty-six groups have joined forces to call for animal sentience – the ability to feel pain and emotion – to be enshrined in law, as it is in the EU.

The survey found 86 per cent of Conservative voters, 84 per cent of Labour voters and 82 per cent of Lib Dem voters said animal welfare laws should be maintained or widened.

Under current plans, animals will receive less legal protection after Brexit, according to MPs and lobbyists, because government departments will not be obliged to consider animal sentience and welfare in new laws and policies.

“The government says animals are protected by existing laws – particularly the Animal Welfare Act 2006 – but this doesn’t cover all animals, such as free living wildlife,” according to the #BetterDealForAnimals campaign.

The drive is supported by MPs including Tory Zac Goldsmith, former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron and Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary.

They warned against post-Brexit trade deals allowing imports of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated dairy products.

They also feared that new housing, motorways and offshore renewables developments may ignore the impact on wildlife, while government departments responsible for UK aid could invest in overseas intensive farming systems banned in Britain because of poor welfare standards.

Wildlife-management practices they said, “could more easily use inhumane methods, resulting in cruel and painful animal deaths” and “disturbance of marine animals could be even harder to determine as a wildlife crime – leading, for example, to more dolphins being disturbed by thoughtless boat users.”

In addition, under UK "protection" legislation laying hens may be caged and farmed ducks kept without full access to bathing water.

There was a public outcry in late 2017 when ministers dropped a recognition of animal sentience from the EU Withdrawal Bill.

However, environment secretary Michael Gove insisted in response that sentience would still be recognised and protections strengthened.

The YouGov survey also found:

  • 80 per cent of the public want post-Brexit trade deals to insist imported animal products meet or exceed British standards
  • Less than a third are confident the government will live up to its promises of being a world leader on animal welfare
  • Two-thirds want a new animal protection committee to advise the government

Claire Bass, chairman of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s animal welfare group, said: “As the Brexit deadline closes in, we need a firm commitment from the government that it will recognise animal sentience in a strong law that has ‘bite’, to ensure animals do not become victims of Brexit.”

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A Defra spokesperson said: “We will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU.

“We have consistently shown our commitment to reduce the risk of harm to animals. As we leave the EU we will maintain and enhance our reputation as a leader on animal welfare.”

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