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RSPCA warns against farm deregulation in no-deal Brexit

The charity fears collapse of farm animal welfare standards after NFU president said deregulation was the only option in a no-deal.

14 August 2019, at 11:24am

As Britain moves towards a no-deal Brexit, the RSPCA warns talk of farm deregulation means welfare standards of the UK’s farm animals may be set to nosedive.

In order for UK farmers to compete with cheap, low-quality meat and egg products which could flood into Britain following a no-deal Brexit, the president of the National Farmers Union has stated that the Government’s only option will be to deregulate the industry.

The UK currently has much higher standards than many non-EU countries with which it is seeking trade deals. For example, the USA gives growth hormones to its cows, still uses conventional battery cages in most states and washes its chicken in chlorine. The USA also uses sow stalls in most pig production, which causes severe welfare problems.

Up until now, the Government has consistently committed to maintaining or raising the UK’s animal welfare standards once the UK leaves the European Union but in the case of a no deal we may seek to import food from other countries such as the USA, where welfare standards are not in line with the UK.

In the increasingly likely scenario of a no-deal Brexit, we would be under pressure to accept farm products produced to standards which are lower and even illegal for UK producers. The NFU president has suggested the only way to compete with this influx of cheaper chicken is deregulation.

RSPCA Head of Public Affairs David Bowles said: “Chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef on our supermarket shelves is now much closer to being a terrifying reality.

“We have always said that a no-deal Brexit could result in a race to the bottom in terms of animal welfare standards and, worryingly, the Government’s promise to maintain those standards sounds increasingly hollow. If the farming industry does deregulate because of a no-deal Brexit, food products which are currently banned from being sold anywhere in the EU due to the unacceptable method of their production will be allowed to be sold in the UK.

“Eight out of 10 people believe that animal welfare laws in the UK should be improved or at least kept at the same level after the UK leaves the EU. If the Government is serious about ensuring the long-term survival of the UK’s farming industry, the UK should be building on its reputation for gold standard farm animal welfare. Scrapping farm animal welfare regulations and lowering welfare standards cannot and must not be the answer.

“Instead of short-term help for the farming industry to maintain markets in a no-deal scenario, the Government must plan for long-term sustainability. This means maintaining and strengthening regulation, ensuring the viability of high welfare schemes and building consumer demand by extending method of production labelling from not just eggs but to other animal products too.”

The RSPCA would also like to see the commitment to protecting the UK’s domestic animal welfare standards enshrined in law under the Agriculture and Trade Bills and all current animal welfare laws, at the very least, to be kept to the same standard, including:

  • All animals to still be recognised as being sentient.
  • Free trade agreements that prohibit products being imported with lower welfare standards.
  • Improvement in key areas of animal welfare, such as long distance transport, food labelling, as well as in the trade of endangered species and puppy imports.