Agricultural experts have warned that the Government’s commitment to higher animal welfare in farming could be undermined by Brexit unless the same standards are insisted on when striking international trade deals.

The warning came at a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) hosted fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference.

RSPCA head of public affairs, David Bowles, said: “The biggest risk to animal welfare post-Brexit would be the wrong kind of trade deal - or no trade deal at all.

Ensuring animal products that are imported to the UK meet our high welfare standards must be a priority to protect the integrity of UK food and the commercial viability of UK farming.

NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts acknowledged the Government’s commitment to the highest possible farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit, but raised concerns about how that could be delivered against the Government’s ambition to strike trade deals across a global stage.

He said: “It is one thing to have the highest standards domestically in the UK, but we have to use those same standards and ethics when it comes to future trade deals. Because otherwise, all we’ll do is give politicians and consumers the opportunity to export their consciences.”

Minister's comments

Reiterating his commitment to protecting UK animal welfare standards in any future trade deals, George Eustice MP, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: “The way we treat animals is the hallmark of a civilised society - we won’t give up or change our standards in pursuit of a deal.”

The panel agreed that consumers need to be empowered to make better decisions about the meat and animal products they buy.

They welcomed the definition of animal welfare as a public good, something which is supported by the public, as well as the holistic approach to food production, animal health and animal welfare in the forthcoming Agriculture Bill.

The panel also agreed that consumers should be given the best information to make informed decisions about the animal products they buy.

England has to date not merged animal welfare programmes with its farm support payments, but many other places have, with over 50 very varied programmes in 15 countries which demonstrate real welfare outcomes.