Today’s Intergroup meeting was dedicated to the Brexit and how Britain’s withdrawal will affect animal welfare in the EU and the United Kingdom.

David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs, RSPCA- Royal Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals gave a presentation about the opportunities and threats for animal welfare in Britain’s post Brexit.

This is of particular relevance to discuss as in a couple of months the UK could start the tricky process of negotiating its future trade arrangements with the EU.  How this ends will determine to a great extent the impact on Britain’s animals.  With some 44 laws on animal welfare being transferred to the UK’s competence, a process that starts this week in London, the UK has promised to keep present standards whilst seeking opportunities to improve them.  Most attention to see if they achieve this tricky balance will be focused on farm animal standards, not because they have more laws, but because mutual free trade in food and farm products is so crucial to the economies and farm standards of the UK and the EU.

The basis are broadly similar welfare standards and therefore a tariff free agreement mutually recognising each other’s standards to allow continued trade in these products should be possible.  Reverting to WTO laws would be a race to the bottom for British farmers particularly in the areas of eggs, beef and pigs.  The UK would be outsourcing its high welfare standards abroad. This is not good for UK farmers, their animals or the British public.  It would not also augur well when agreeing free trade agreements with other countries, the vast majority of whom have welfare standards far below Britain’s.  The UK Government has rightly said they dont want to see chlorine chicken or beef injected with hormones or eggs reared in intensive battery cages coming in.  But agreeing this with countries that wish to trade in these products will be tough.

On the flip side, opportunities to improve animal welfare are already occurring.  The Government will next Spring introduce mandatory CCTV in abattoirs, going well beyond EU minimum standards.  Additionally, they have said they want to control live exports of animals to the continent, and could look at introducing mandatory labelling on how food is produced, all of which is not allowed under present EU laws.   Which side, opportunities or threats, will win is too early to tell.  What will be certain is that that Eurogroup  for Animals and the RSPCA will be fighting to ensure the animal standards will continue to improve in both the EU and UK.

Joe Moran, Political Adviser at Eurogroup for Animals gave a presentation on the impact the UK’s withdrawal will have on EU animal welfare. This is focused on four main areas. The impact on individual Member States, the continued trade in live animals, how to fill the budget gap for agriculture and animal welfare when the UK has withdrawn, and the changing political influence of the UK vis-a-vis the EU.

It is clear that the impact of the UK’s departure will be felt hardest in the agricultural sectors by France, the Netherlands and, to an even greater degree, in Ireland. Red meat and dairy production in particular will be impacted, with an expected drop in agricultural trade of 62% overall – at least in the short term before the UK can agree any long term free trade agreement. The effect of tariffs and non- tariff barriers will, according to the European Parliament’s own study, hit smaller farms hardest, posing severe questions for animal welfare in these countries. Moreover, what trade does continue will be slower and impacted by new animal health and veterinary checks. Questions remain over the state of preparedness of new regimes in the UK, and the resulting impact on farm animal welfare is a cause of concern.

The UK, a longstanding champion of animal welfare, and the MEPs it returns to Strasbourg will be missed in the future. Not only has it always been a beacon for advancing animal welfare within the EU, but its absence will change the balance in both the Parliament and the Council, posing new challenges for the future. Not least, it’s sizeable budgetary contribution will leave a €10.2bn hole each year in the Common Agriculture Policy. Eurogroup for Animals is committed to ensuring that any shrinking of the CAP budget overall doesn’t adversely impact on animal welfare standards, but that any reform resulting from British departure only strengthens animal welfare measures instead.

The two presentations were followed by a short but lively debate.



Comments are closed.