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Friday, June 11, 2021

Animal welfare is a low priority on new trade deals

The Independent reports on warnings by the chief executive of the RSPCA has sounded the alarm over the prospect of post-Brexit free-trade deals with countries where farm animals are treated in ways that would be illegal in the UK.

Chris Sherwood has warned that animal welfare standards will be “watered down by the back door” and UK farmers will be undercut if the government signs agreements with other nations where farm animals are made to suffer needlessly. In particular, he fears Britain’s forthcoming deal with Australia could set a precedent for similar arrangements around the world that would lead to increased cruelty:

The government wants deals with New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, India and the US, and is on course to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership alliance, which includes parts of Asia and Japan.

The Conservatives’ manifesto promised not to compromise on environmental protection and animal welfare standards, but the Australia deal prompted a “furious” row in government over its approach.

The experts believe the UK could sign up to import meat from pigs held in farrowing crates for long periods, beef from hormone-fed cattle, chickens crammed into overcrowded, barren cages, and milk from genetically modified cows, among other goods.

Mr Sherwood told The Independent the Australia deal could set a “very concerning” precedent.

“Countries like Brazil have big exports of pork and beef, and our concern is animal welfare standards will be watered down by the back door and will undercut our farmers,” he said.

“It’s incongruent with the great messages from the government on animal welfare – we’ve just had the Kept Animals Bill and Animal Sentience Bill, and a commitment in the Queen’s Speech to protect standards.

“The government is on record as saying they want to protect and enhance animal welfare, and all we’re doing is reminding them of that.

“It’s not just the RSPCA – the public care about where animals come from and how they’re treated. These are sentient beings – animals that have feelings and feel pain.”

Many other countries allow pigs to be kept in sow stalls and farrowing crates – pens that are so tight the animal cannot even turn around – and chickens to be more tightly crammed into sheds.

Britain banned sow stalls in 1999, and farrowing crates are legal but controversial.

Canada and the US still have battery cages for egg-laying hens, which are considered so cruel the UK banned them in 2012.

India, which is thought to want to export liquid and dried eggs to the UK, keeps its entire national flock of egg-laying hens in battery cages.

In response the Government keep referring us back to their manifesto commitment not to undermine animal-welfare standards, but they do not yet have a process of showing how they will achieve that, nor a trade strategy that says what is their purpose on trade. Ministers are said to be split with some wanting a quick win on trade deals irrespective of the cost.

All-in-all this is yet another Brexit-induced mess.
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