The UK has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world. UK producers are rightly proud of these standards, and there is cross-sector support for maintaining high levels of farm animal welfare after Brexit.
In order to deliver on its commitment to preserving these standards, the Government must transpose existing EU law on farm animal welfare into domestic law so as to be effective on day one after Brexit. Thereafter, the Government, in consultation with the industry, consumers and other relevant stakeholders, will be able to consider whether to improve these standards.
Scientific evidence and advice should be at the heart of any farm animal welfare policy decisions, and the Government must ensure that withdrawal from the EU does not lead to a shortfall in funding for farm animal welfare research.
The Government must also bear in mind that while high farm animal welfare standards can be a selling point for UK producers, they also increase the cost of production. In the event that post-Brexit trading relations with the wider world, and if standards diverge over time with the EU, lead to increased imports from countries operating lower farm animal welfare standards, UK producers could become uncompetitive. This could undermine the sustainability of the industry or incentivise a race to the bottom for welfare standards—contrary to the wishes of the UK industry.
The Government must negotiate to include provisions regarding farm animal welfare in future free trade agreements. There is some doubt, however, over whether animal welfare can be used as a rationale to restrict imports from other countries under WTO rules. The Government must therefore explore the extent to which developments in World Trade Organization (WTO) case law allow the use of farm animal welfare as grounds for restricting imports under WTO rules.
The demand for high-welfare products is ultimately driven by whether consumers prioritise purchasing those products, at added cost, rather than buying cheaper, lower-welfare products. Labelling systems should be simplified, thereby helping consumers to make informed decisions about supporting farm animal welfare. Farm assurance schemes also help build consumer confidence through their high standards, inspections and associated labels. The Government should encourage the uptake of voluntary farm assurance schemes in the UK.
High farm animal welfare can be seen as a public good. We invite the Government to consider whether the delivery of this public good should be supported through agricultural funding after Brexit, bearing in mind that any such funding must respect World Trade Organization rules.
Skilled veterinary staff on farms, in abattoirs and during transport play a key role in inspecting the health and wellbeing of animals. As the UK leaves the EU Single Market and customs union, the need for veterinary certification related to trade may rise significantly. Yet the UK agri-food sector relies heavily on workers from other EU countries, in particular as veterinary staff.