As the UK government has announced its trade deal with Australia, agreeing tariff free imports of beef and lamb by 2036, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) warns that it could set a damaging precedent for agreements with other countries and threatens a race to the bottom.

The animal charity is urging the UK government to ensure that the deal includes non-regression clauses on animal welfare, and safeguards against beef coming into the UK that has been injected with hormones when it agrees the specific terms in the coming months.

The RSPCA said that cheap, low quality imports could also undercut farmers and, if more trade deals follow suit, devastate the UK’s farming industry.

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said:

We are concerned to hear that a tariff free deal has been done on beef and lamb and need reassurance that there will be equivalence to our standards on any imports in the deal.

“So we now urge Boris Johnson to take every step he can to safeguard animal welfare with the details of the agreement.”

‘A worrying precedent’

“This agreement with Australia could set a worrying precedent if it welcomes imports produced to lower animal welfare standards than those allowed in the UK, through the unconditional reduction in tariffs on sensitive issues such as beef and lamb,” added Sherwood

The UK public doesn’t want to see these low welfare products on supermarket shelves.

“It’s worrying that UK school children or sick hospital patients could be served this low welfare food without even having a choice in the matter.

“Low welfare imports also threaten UK farmers’ livelihoods,” Sherwood continued.

“As our first trade agreement since leaving the European Union, it is really vital the government gets it right and ensures our welfare standards are safeguarded or it could give a clear signal to other countries that the UK’s international trade policy has no red lines when it comes to upholding animal welfare standards.

“In Australia it is legal to mutilate the rear end of sheep, sometimes without anaesthetic.

Egg laying hens are kept in battery cages and chicken can be washed with chlorine. Cattle may never see a blade of grass and almost half the herd are given growth hormones.”

Sherwood concluded: “Unless a high bar can be established now, UK trade negotiators’ hands will be tied when they try to clinch higher welfare deals with other priority countries such as the USA, Canada, Brazil and Mexico, all of which have lower animal welfare standards than the UK.”