Brexit is a threat to animal welfare laws – the UK government must protect the rights of pets and livestock

Britain is a country of animal lovers. But their wellbeing could be jeapardised if Boris Johnson turns its back on the EU and looks to the US for food imports

Alexandra Phillips
Wednesday 22 January 2020 13:11 GMT
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Britain is a country of animal lovers. The RSPCA estimates that around 44% of all UK households have a pet, with over 50 million animals living as part of our families. It’s no surprise then that animal welfare is important to many of us. We want animals to be treated well – whether that’s the way they’re transported, grazed, milked or bred.

At the moment, 44 animal welfare standards that this country is tied to are set out under EU law – something that is set to change after Brexit. And that change is worrying many of us. We’ve had no guarantees from this government that it’ll commit to maintaining the same levels of care and due diligence for animals as it’s currently held to by the EU.

That’s why the RSPCA – who visited the Animal Welfare Intergroup in Strasbourg last week – is asking the government to put a commitment down in writing. It’s asking for standards to be maintained and for the prime minister to refuse exports from overseas countries that fail to meet those standards.

The UK’s new Agricultural Bill is going to see £3.3bn paid to farmers up to 2024; this should go towards handing out environmental and animal welfare benefits. We need to see farmers being paid for good quality land and soil, improving air quality, and ensuring their animals live in humane conditions.

The RSPCA is championing for a “dynamic alignment” as part of any free trade agreement. That essentially means that when a country raises their animal welfare standards, the other party has to as well. In this case, it should be easier for the UK to raise its standards, but it also provides us with a real opportunity to continue making a significant impact on the continent long after the Brexit deadline.

The EU hasn’t got it right all the time, and now is Britain’s chance to be a world leader in improving animal welfare well beyond our own borders. Over the past decade, the EU only passed one new piece of legislation regarding animal welfare and over the same period of time, didn’t publish a single piece of farm animal legislation. There are problems with live animal transportation and exports across the continent. These are all things that the UK can help influence, so long as the PM commits to working with the EU.

However awful we might think Brexit is, it’s a huge opportunity for both the EU and UK to improve the lives of animals and farmers around Europe. But the UK must be game for this.

We also need to see a commitment from this country to tariff-free trade. Huge tariffs on food products would damage both British and European farmers. The UK is only 61% sufficient in food – we need to get our food from somewhere. We get most of our food from the EU and we enjoy higher standards than many other corners of the world. If Boris Johnson throws two fingers up at the EU and turns towards the US and other countries, we might start accepting standards that are currently illegal in the UK.

We could start to see animal testing in the UK again, in a bid to attract alternative bidders like China. This is a real problem both for our health, as well as for the health and wellbeing of animals.

We need complete transparency in terms of negotiations. The EU has promised to make its mandate public and transparent – the UK has to do that too. We need to see warm words on animal protection turned into concrete action.

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The RSPCA as well as the Animal Welfare Intergroup in the European Parliament (of which I’m a member) are working together to try and ensure that we end up with a free trade agreement that helps both farmers and animals.

81% of the British public say they don’t want to see a reduction in animal welfare standards after leaving the EU. I am calling on this government honours that.

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