Earlier this week, the Labour Party released their new Animal Welfare Manifesto. Shadow Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sue Hayman launched the Manifesto saying, “Never has it been more pressing to drive forward a comprehensive and ambitious agenda on animal welfare.” She is referring to the imminent departure of the UK from the European Union and the potentially devastating impact that Brexit could have on animal welfare standards.

Currently, animal sentience is enshrined in EU law. It has been a key provision since 2007, when it became a binding article in the Lisbon Treaty. The principle of animal sentience holds that animals are aware of their feelings and emotions. These could be negative feelings, such as pain, frustration and fear, or feelings of comfort and enjoyment. Consequently, they should be treated with compassion and consideration. It is this principle of respecting animals as sentient beings that underpins the EU’s animal welfare legislation. It is therefore essential that the principle of animal sentience be transferred into UK law post-Brexit. Recognising its importance, the Labour Party have made it a key recommendation within their Manifesto.

The added motivation to ensure that animal welfare is enshrined in law is the potential impact of future free trade deals that the UK might enter into post-Brexit. A future deal with the US provides a clear example of why this is important. The US has significantly less regulation of animal welfare standards, which could present a serious issue in a future US/UK agreement. If intensively-farmed meat from the US, that has been produced to a lower animal welfare standard, is allowed to flood the market, it will undercut UK livestock producers. This could create a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ with standards falling below the current animal welfare levels, negatively impacting UK consumers, who routinely express support for maintaining or enhancing farm animal welfare after Brexit. This could also force farmers to make an impossible decision of farming more intensively or losing market share.

In order to guarantee that standards of animal welfare are protected and enforced, the Labour Party Manifesto recommends that an independent Animal Welfare Commissioner be appointed. Their specific role would be to ensure that, “animal welfare standards are always considered as legislation is introduced and as Britain takes part in international bodies, trade deals and obligations.”

The other key recommendations within the Manifesto include:

  1. Banning live exports for slaughter and fattening.
  2. Carrying out a review of training and standards within slaughterhouses.
  3. Researching the impact on animal welfare of highly intensive livestock farming practices.
  4. Introducing a phased ban on sow farrowing crates and end the use of cages on British farms by 2025.
  5. Designing post-Brexit farm subsidies to reward and encourage both high animal welfare standards and environmental practices.

You can read the full Labour Party Animal Welfare Manifesto here.

Read more about the SFT position on a US/UK trade deal here.

Photograph: Bonnie Welch 

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