Leaving EU allows UK to reaffirm and strengthen standards for animal welfare
The end result of the Great Repeal Bill should be retention, not dilution of animal welfare standards says Theresa Villiers MP.
High standards of animal welfare is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. We have a long tradition in this country of protecting animals, often many years before others follow.
Around 80% of animal welfare rules are part of EU law. Leaving the EU means we have the chance to reaffirm our support for the highest standards of animal welfare. It also gives us the opportunity to strengthen protection for animals as we design a new system of farm support to replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
In the debate I have tabled in Parliament, I will call on the Government to ensure that the forthcoming Great Repeal Bill maintains animal welfare standards at a level at least as high as they are today.
That does not necessarily mean every dot and comma of EU law in this area needs to be set in stone. There may be legislative options which maintain prevailing standards, but deliver that outcome in a more flexible way that better suits our domestic circumstances.
But the end result should be retention, not dilution, of laws which safeguard farm animals in this country; and our goal for the future should be further strengthening of that protection.
Food and farming is one of the most important sectors in the UK economy. We should use the CAP replacement to incentivise a move away from intensive industrial farming methods such as zero-grazing for dairy herds. Not only can intensive farming lead to unnecessary animal suffering, it can also involve the over-use of antimicrobials contributing to antibiotic resistance problems.
Continued financial support for agriculture is vital if we are to maintain high animal welfare standards. Whilst methods of good animal husbandry are being developed to keep the costs of maintaining animal welfare standards at reasonable levels, humane forms of agriculture will often cost more than intensive industrial production.
So agricultural support payments will be needed to ensure food produced with high welfare standards is not priced out of the market by cheaper less compassionate alternatives.
It will also be important to ensure that animal welfare is a significant consideration in future trade talks. We should not be afraid to ask those countries who wish to sell into our market to commit to acceptable standards of animal welfare. This should be reconcilable with WTO obligations, so long as a consistent approach is taken to different countries.
And lastly I will ask Ministers to bring forward legislation to bring to an end the export of live animals for slaughter in mainland Europe (exports to Ireland across our land border don’t give rise to the same concerns and should continue). The enforcement of rules protecting animals transported over long distances is patchy and great suffering can occur. Live exports would probably have been banned long ago if Westminster not Brussels had been the decision-maker. It is time this cruel trade was stopped once and for all and I would like to see a ban come into force on the day we leave the EU.
Theresa Villiers is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Chipping Barnet