RSPCA sets out its ‘red lines’ at UK’s last ever EU animal welfare meeting

The RSPCA has set out five important recommendations for animal welfare amid fears that standards could be under threat in a free trade agreement.

As the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill nears completion, it contains no references to animal welfare, despite the government’s manifesto promises. This means there is no legal guarantee that animal welfare standards will be written into any future trade deal between the UK and the EU.

Following the UK’s final EU animal welfare meeting this week, the RSPCA has set out five ‘red lines’ for a free trade agreement, which ensures animal welfare standards are protected:

  • Tariff-free trade should continue, especially on food;
  • Both sides agree not to lower their standards – if one side improves theirs, the other side should reciprocate;
  • Both sides should recognise the others’ regulatory processes. This means, for example, that products tested on animals would not need to be tested twice for the UK and the European market, raising the risk of increased animal testing;
  • A common veterinary agreement between the EU and UK. This would make movement of animals, between the two smoother, reducing checks and delays which could compromise welfare;
  • A transparent process for resolving any trade issues that arise.

David Bowles, the RSPCA’s Head of Public Affairs said: “The UK finds itself at a crossroads on animal welfare. So, we have set out our ‘red lines’ on what a free agreement with the EU should include. The government has to deliver ten promises from their manifesto to improve animal welfare once we leave the EU. But look at the Withdrawal Agreement and you will find no mention of animal welfare at all, let alone any commitment not to let standards fall.

“So, the direction which the government takes could depend on the whim of ministers rather than the rule of law. Will they go towards the American deregulated model allowing imports of food produced under practices such as hormones injected into beef, chicken washed in chlorine or pigs kept in sow stalls or keep and improve our standards and retain parity with the EU, our biggest market and partner for food?

“We believe that tariff free trade, mutual maintenance of standards, mutual recognition of regulations, a common veterinary agreement and a transparent process for resolving any trade issues are important principles for a free trade deal.

“We know there is a public support for this – polls have shown 67% of the public do not want products to be imported at standards illegal in the UK and 81% said they wanted our animal standards to be maintained or improved.”

During the 47 years of UK membership, the EU has adopted 44 different pieces of animal welfare law, from banning the import of dog and cat fur to regulating how animals are tested and used in laboratories.

While all are now part of UK legislation, many contain standards well above other countries, which the UK hopes to have trade agreements, including Australia and the USA.

David Bowles continued: “Even if these animal welfare standards remain in UK law, it is vital that in any trade deal, the UK does not agree to import products which are produced at lower standards whether it is food, products tested on animals or how fish are caught. The result would be undercutting our own producers or industry and would be a race to the bottom for animal welfare.”

The RSPCA’s principles were laid out at a meeting of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Animal Welfare this month (January 2020). With 100 members from 26 countries, the group meets monthly to discuss and agree ways of improving animal welfare, but the January meeting was the last one for UK members after 37 years.