Don’t sell out animal welfare for trade deal, RSPCA warns government

Animal welfare laws hang in the balance as the House of Lords prepares to vote on amendments to the Agriculture Bill, which would ensure animal welfare is protected.

One amendment – backed by the National Farmers’ Union and RSPCA – enshrines in law the government’s manifesto commitment not to accept imports of food products produced to lower welfare standards.

Chris Sherwood, chief executive of the RSPCA said: “Next week’s vote in the House of Lords is absolutely crucial for animal welfare. UK standards must be safeguarded in future trade deals – if standards aren’t protected, lower welfare, cheaper-to-produce products will enter the UK market.

This is not just about chlorine chicken or hormone-treated beef – eggs from conventional [or ‘barren’] battery systems and pork from pigs produced by sows kept in stalls could be imported from countries where welfare standards are permitted to be lower than our own. And it isn’t only about the USA either – many other countries we’ll be negotiating with will have lower standards than the UK too.

“If these amendments fail, it sends an important message to the US that our own farmers can be undercut and spark a race to the bottom for animal welfare.”

The UK inherits laws from the EU banning chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef but the RSPCA warns there is nothing to stop this legislation being amended in future.

A poll carried out by the society showed 67% of the British public are opposed to the import of food products produced to standards unlawful in the UK.

The animal welfare charity was encouraged that the Bill voted through by the House of Commons in the spring included the development of a scheme to provide financial rewards for farmers in England who improve their animal welfare practices, as well as the official recognition of animal welfare as a ‘public good’.

However, campaigners were left disappointed that other key aspects such as protection for farmers in England against lower welfare imports were not included, despite an earlier commitment to this.

The charity cautiously welcomed the idea of a ‘trade standards commission’ that could play a role in protecting UK farm animal welfare standards in trade deals, but believes it remains no substitute for protecting standards that go above the legal minimum.

“This is a critical moment for the government to show its commitment to maintaining standards and protecting British farmers – and farm animals – is more than lip service,” Sherwood added.