U.K. farmed animal welfare laws older & weaker than many voters believe
Part III of a five-part series. See also Will U.K. leaving E.U. mean leaving animal welfare behind?, Farmed animals & the Brexit “diet plan.”, What Brexit means for “pet passports” & lab animals and Back to the Jungle Book: U.K. wildlife law post-Brexit.)
While residents of the United Kingdom imagine the U.K. to have far more advanced animal welfare legislation than the rest of the world, reality is that the major legal protections for animals slaughtered in the U.K. or exported to slaughter are two directives of European Union origin, issued in 2005 and 2009.
These were implemented by subsequent U.K. legislation including the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Orders (2006/07) for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
U.K. regs date to 1990
Also still applicable, of U.K. origin, are the Welfare of Animals at Markets Order and The Welfare of Horses at Markets (and Other Places of Sale) Order, both dating to 1990.
Altogether, assesses the Royal SPCA briefing paper on Brexit, “The largest body of [E.U.] legislation [protecting animals] exists on farm animals with eighteen relevant laws adopted. There are five laws setting standards on the way animals are reared and produced, with a generic law setting baseline standards on all farm animals and specific laws covering laying hens, veal calves, chickens and pigs.
E.U. legislation covers more
“There is legislation covering consumer information such as mandatory labeling of the provenance of eggs and beef and country of origin legislation on where certain meats and products are produced,” the RSPCA explains. “One law sets rules on the live transport of animals and a further one on how animals need to be slaughtered. Certain veterinary products have been prohibited with bans on the use of hormones in beef cattle and BST, a dairy hormone, in dairy cattle. Use of these products could also have a negative impact on the welfare of the animals.
“The U.K. is a member of the OIE, the World Animal Health Organization,” the RSPCA briefing continues, “which sets standards on animal disease and health and has agreed thirteen different guidelines on animal welfare, all of which meet existing E.U. legislative standards aside from the guideline on dairy cattle. These standards will be kept,” because the U.K. observes them through treaties separate from E.U. membership.
European Union subsidizes U.K. farmers
More than just regulation of animal agriculture is involved, the RSPCA briefing paper points out.
“The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),” the European Union subsidy scheme for farmers, accounts for 39% of the E.U. budget,” the RSPCA briefing paper explains. “In 2015 U.K. farmers received €3.08 billion in direct support from Europe under CAP.”
The E.U. also paid €414 million to U.K. farmers who implemented various specific projects to advance environmental health and animal welfare.
“The total subsidies received in 2014 represented 55% of total U.K. income from farming,” the RSPCA reported. “The U.K. now has to negotiate a new subsidy system for British farmers and decide which subsidies to keep and which to improve.
U.K. behind, but could now advance
“Although the U.K. sees itself as operating some of the highest animal welfare standards,” the RSPCA said, “there are examples where the U.K. has fallen behind other countries. So the U.K.’s authorities now have the power to implement higher standards than those under the E.U. laws.”
The U.K. “has done this previously,” the RSPCA briefing paper recalled. “The U.K. prohibited the veal crate system in 1991, 15 years before it was banned in the E.U.; it prohibited sow stalls in 1999, 14 years before they were phased out in the E.U.
“However,” the RSPCA acknowledged, “there are certain areas where other countries have higher welfare standards than the U.K., such as on chickens and laying hens.”
Opportunities for advances
Overall, the RSPCA hoped, “Leaving the E.U. gives England and Wales opportunities to go further in certain areas where there is existing European legislation. For instance prohibiting the slaughter of farm animals without stunning, already prohibited in three other E.U. countries, or making it mandatory to install closed circuit television camera in slaughterhouses.”
The U.K. could also set lower maximum journey times for livestock in transport than the E.U., and “could legislate for mandatory labelling of animals based on their method of production,” the RSPCA said, for example by making participation in the RSPCA’s own farmed animal product certification scheme mandatory for all producers.
“Compulsory labelling on egg provenance was introduced in the U.K. in 2003,” the RSPCA briefing paper mentioned. “In subsequent years, sales of free range eggs rose and now account for around 52% of eggs produced in the U.K. Around 90% of these are certified RSPCA Assured.”
CIWF less hopeful
Compassion In World Farming chief policy advisor Peter Stevenson was less optimistic in a CIWF briefing paper examining Brexit.
“It is difficult to know if the U.K. will take the opportunity to improve animal welfare such as banning enriched cages for hens or live exports,” wrote Stevenson. “The present government and the farming sector have shown little appetite for improving [animal] welfare.
“The U.K.’s new trading relationships will affect the degree to which the U.K. will feel able to enact unilateral welfare improvements,” Stevenson pointed out. “The U.K. will be reluctant to introduce welfare improvements if it has entered into new trade agreements that prevent it from banning imports produced to welfare standards below those of the U.K.
“Most U.K. law on farm animal welfare is based on E.U. law,” Stevenson emphasized. “The U.K. will have to decide which of these provisions to retain. Farming bodies will probably press for some to be diluted. We will have to oppose such moves. We will also oppose attempts to replace legislation with industry codes of practice
“We will certainly continue to press for proper enforcement of the tail docking ban,” prohibited throughout the U.K. since 2006, “and other legislation that is currently poorly enforced,” Stevenson pledged.
Of particular concern to Stevenson, “The [U.K.] Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) intended to publish its 25-year plan on the future of food and farming in March, but then postponed it till after the Brexit referendum. This plan focuses primarily on productivity, competitiveness and agri-tech. It largely ignores welfare, the environment and public health.
“We have many times pointed out to DEFRA,” Stevenson said, “that we need an integrated food and farming plan. This should deliver on a wide range of objectives. It should produce nutritious food and encourage healthy diets. It must end the scandal whereby the poorest members of society have the unhealthiest diets. It needs to work with the grain of nature, allowing wildlife and the environment to recover from the depredations of factory farming. It must produce good livelihoods for farmers and first class animal welfare. CIWF has produced its own plan in part to show DEFRA what this approach would look like.”
Animal Concern Scotland chief executive John F. Robins told ANIMALS 24-7 that his first concern involving farmed animals and Brexit is that “Removal of E.U. subsidies will have a detrimental impact on livestock farming. That has to be addressed by our government,” Robins said, “before lack of money causes suffering in animals on farms.
“All too often,” Robins charged, “the authorities only act after starving animals or rotting corpses are brought to their attention by members of the public who come across the victims of the neglect caused when farmers cannot afford to feed their animals.”
But Robins, like Stevenson, is optimistic that “One area where animals just might win from the U.K. coming out of the E.U. is that we could possibly set minimum standards of animal welfare for animal-derived products imported into the U.K. For instance, although very far from perfect, some U.K. standards for livestock farming and slaughter are above those in other countries. Producers here can be penalized by losing sales to products produced under far lower and therefore far cheaper welfare standards in other countries.
“This was shown some years ago,” Robins said, “when Britain’s biggest turkey producer increased profits by moving production to then non-E.U. Romania, where production standards and wages were much lower. If we could ban the import of animal products produced below our welfare standards that would be better than the current situation.
“We might also be able to curb long distance live transport,” Robins said, “and insist on exporting on the hook rather than on the hoof. Under current free trade rules within the E.U., live sheep can be transported by ferry and road from Shetland all the way to southern Greece,” albeit that this in recently years has rarely occurred.
However, worried Vier Pfoten chief executive Helmut Dungler, “New trade agreements could see lower animal welfare standards for farm animals. As and when the U.K. loses its access to the E.U. single market, it will be seeking to negotiate new trade agreements with markets outside the E.U. in order to protect the future of its economy,” Dungler predicted.
“In the field of farm animals, many fear this could see the U.K. forming trade agreements with countries with lower animal welfare standards,” including many nations in the British Commonwealth, “which would in turn affect our own standards,” within the E.U.
“Indeed,” Dungler suggested, “the U.K. might be weaker without the E.U. in standing up for high animal welfare standards, and might have less weight during the negotiations.”
(This was Part III of a five-part series. See also Will U.K. leaving E.U. mean leaving animal welfare behind?, Farmed animals & the Brexit “diet plan,” What Brexit means for “pet passports” & lab animals. and Back to the Jungle Book: U.K. wildlife law post-Brexit.)
I think that things for animals will get worse once Brexit is achieved. Before all those pro-animal welfare EU laws were enacted we were told by government that the UK had the highest animal welfare standards in the world, ad nauseum. In that case, why the new EU laws which were needed in the UK as well as other EU countries. A country which is defying (and denying) its own law regarding foxhunting will revel in taking us back not only to the Beatles era and further but to those EU-less days of max profit before mercy. If farmers don’t receive equivalent subsidies then animals are going to be even more shockingly abused. Perhaps organisations like the RSPCA should eventually place large advertisements in the papers but preferably on TV, asking the public to report any abuses they see, explaining that such abuse may get worse etc – though this abuse awareness is not going to do a fat lot of good where the abuse takes place in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Maybe we should be gearing up to do more demos and er private investigating such as the brilliant Hillside Animal Sanctuary have done (and with their meagre reserves).
Julia Lewis says
It’s very bad that we lag behind Europe with our farm animal welfare. I hadn’t known this until I read Merritt Clifton’s articles. But what I would point out is that however good the EU farmers may be, there are some serious failings. My cousin is a Gloucestershire farmer and he went with other farmers on an tour of Italy, looking at farms there. I imagine it was organised by his local NFU branch. What he saw on one particular pig farm left him shocked. He told me the animals were being kept appallingly and with no room to move about.
He couldn’t imagine why this farm had been singled out for the British farmers to visit, so bad was it.
The other thing to remember is that a lot of our cattle and sheep are outside in fields. I’m not excusing factory farming, as it’s ghastly, but there are things in the UK farming scene that are good.
When I go to European countries I am always wondering where their farm animals are as it’s a rare sight to see any in fields.