Brexit: farm animal welfare Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Farm animal welfare and Brexit

1.The UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union will, as we concluded in our report Brexit: agriculture, have a profound impact on agricultural policy, including farm animal welfare, and the trade in agri-food products.1

2.The Government has made it clear that it wishes to trade globally whilst preserving high quality standards for UK produce. The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on 8 February 2017 that “We should be proud that in the UK we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world—indeed, one of the highest scores for animal protection in the world. Leaving the EU will not change that.”2 Yet in the course of our inquiry on Brexit: agriculture, we heard widespread concern from witnesses that those standards will come under pressure post-Brexit.

The legislative context

3.The UK was one of the first countries in the world to legislate on farm animal welfare,3 and a large body of national law protecting animals was already in place when the UK acceded to the then European Economic Community in 1973. Since then, the welfare of farm animals has been a shared competence between the UK and the EU.4 Indeed, the EU has helped raise farm animal welfare standards across Member States,5 predominantly through the harmonisation of production standards throughout the Single Market.6

4.The majority of EU legislation considers farm animals to be ‘agricultural goods’ and seeks to facilitate the Single Market in those goods.7 Member States thus compete on the basis of harmonised standards and regulations. Key EU farm animal welfare laws are set out in Appendix 3. Individual Member States are permitted to impose higher standards than those specified by the EU provided they do not constitute a barrier to trade in that market.

5.In addition, the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) recognises animals as “sentient beings”.8 This principle requires Member States to pay “full regard to the welfare requirements of animals when formulating agricultural policies”.

6.The vast majority of farm animal welfare legislation in the UK in recent years has originated in EU law.9 Aside from the implications that withdrawing from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Single Market will have on agricultural production and trade in agricultural products, including livestock, meat from poultry, pigs, cattle and sheep, dairy and eggs, Brexit could also affect this legislative framework for farm animal welfare.

This inquiry

7.In this short report, we explore the implications of Brexit for farm animal welfare and the steps the Government should take to protect farm animal welfare in the context of Brexit. Though we recognise that agricultural policy and farm animal welfare are devolved policy areas, this report considers the repatriation of farm animal welfare for the UK as a whole. We do not consider future domestic policy, but note that in the context both of domestic law and of a future UK-EU trade agreement, the Government will need to address issues such as veterinary medicines and the regulation of the wider retail industry for food products.

8.The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, whose members are listed in Appendix 1, met on 5 April 2017 to take evidence from the witnesses listed in Appendix 2. The Committee is grateful to these witnesses for their participation in this inquiry and to those who submitted written contributions.

9.We make this report to the House for debate.


1 European Union Committee, Brexit: agriculture (20th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 169)

2 HC Deb, 8 February 2017, col 424

3 BBC, Ethics guide: Animal welfare legislation: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/animals/defending/legislation_1.shtml [accessed 20 June 2017]

4 Cabinet Office, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union, Animal Health and Welfare and Food Safety Report (July 2013), p 13: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/227367/DEF-PB13979-BalOfComp-HMG-WEB.PDF [accessed 8 May 2017]

5 DG Sanco, Evaluation of the EU Policy on Animal Welfare and Possible Policy Options for the Future, Final report, (December 2010), p 3: http://www.eupaw.eu/docs/Final%20Report%20-%20EUPAW%20Evaluation.pdf [accessed 8 May 2017]

6 Cabinet Office, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union, Animal Health and Welfare and Food Safety Report (July 2013), p 11: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/227367/DEF-PB13979-BalOfComp-HMG-WEB.PDF [accessed 8 May 2017]

7 See paragraph 15 of European Union Committee, Brexit: agriculture (20th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 169)

8 Article 13 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, OJ C 326 (consolidated version of 26 October 2012)

9 See for instance written evidence from RSPCA (AWF0001), CIWF (AWF0007), ALAW and Wildlife and Countryside Link (AWF0017).




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