Brexit: farm animal welfare Contents

Chapter 2: Maintaining standards

Preserving the status quo

10.Farm animal welfare barely featured in the debate ahead of the referendum. Yet some polls suggest that 80% or more of the UK public want animal welfare standards to be maintained or improved post-Brexit.10 This was supported by our witnesses. Chris Mallon, Chief Executive of the National Beef Association (NBA), told us: “No member of my association has approached me and said, ‘Oh, Chris, we need to reduce welfare standards post exit.’ Nobody has ever come up with that idea.”11 The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) agreed: “The UK is a world leader in animal welfare and it is vitally important that this is maintained post Brexit.”12 The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), National Office of Animal Health (NOAH), Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), NFU Scotland, British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), British Poultry Council (BPC), British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the National Pig Association (NPA) all concurred.13

11.Witnesses welcomed the Prime Minister’s commitment in the House of Commons in February 2017 to “maintaining and, where possible, improving standards of welfare in the UK”.14 In the words of Minette Batters, Deputy President of the National Farmers Union (NFU): “We absolutely support the Government’s ambition to maintain welfare standards.”15 The Soil Association agreed: “Maintaining and improving farm animal welfare should be a non-negotiable criteria for the UK government and we welcome encouraging statements from DEFRA on this matter.”16

Preserving the legislative framework

12.To deliver on its commitment to maintaining standards, the Government must in the first instance preserve the existing legislative framework after Brexit. In the words of the RSPCA: “If farm animal welfare is not to decline post-Brexit it is vital that, at the very least, this body of legislation is maintained in its totality.”17 The CLA commented:

“A failure to transpose all existing EU animal welfare legislation would put at risk the UK’s place as a world leader in animal welfare standards while doing it poorly, or worse incorrectly, would cause significant uncertainty to UK farmers who would be unsure about the status of animal welfare regulations.”18

13.One area of concern is the Treaty principle that animals are sentient beings. Farmwel was emphatic that “Government must ensure that farm animal sentience continues to be embedded in UK law”.19 CIWF, the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare (ALAW) and the Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL) all agreed.20

14.Giving evidence to our inquiry into Brexit: agriculture, Pamela Thompson, Head of EU Exit Team for Animal and Plant Health at Defra, gave us the following assurance: “We will transfer across the legislative framework and deal with things that will not be operable so that, on day one of exit, animal keepers should not notice too much difference.”21 We welcome this assurance.

Institutions and enforcement

15.EU law is supported by an institutional framework. Red Tractor Assurance told us: “Within the EU the DG Health and Food Safety of the European Commission (previously the FVO22) provides oversight that Member States are effectively applying EU regulations. The only effect of Brexit will be to remove this one layer of oversight.”23 This, they argued, “should have little or no consequence”. NFU Scotland agreed: “Enforcement of animal welfare within the UK happens on a range of levels, but all enforcement and assurance is UK-based.”24 The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) also said that “The remit of existing authorities would need to continue.”25

16.In contrast, Joe Bailey, Head of Agriculture at RSPCA Assured, argued that, for welfare, “there is a great need to increase the number of inspectors in the country”.26 She told us that “Trading Standards, which have the powers, should have more resources … they just do not have the resources or the time to concentrate on animal welfare, particularly in livestock.”27

International standards

17.Though EU law accounts for a significant proportion of farm animal welfare legislation in the UK, the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), Professor Nigel Gibbens CBE, giving evidence to our inquiry into Brexit: agriculture, reminded us that much of this legislation “is founded on international standards, as was our law before we entered [the EU]”.28 The Council of Europe has adopted six conventions on farm animal welfare,29 which act as a framework on farm animal welfare standards.30 Indeed the EU rules are based on the European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes.31 The UK has signed or ratified all six conventions and will continue to be subject to them post-Brexit.

18.Farm animal welfare legislation is also underpinned by international standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) through the terrestrial animal health code.32 The CVO confirmed that “we will always have reference back to the international standard, which is the World Animal Health Organisation, the OIE”.33

Scope for improvement

19.Our witnesses were, as we have noted, united in calling for the maintenance of high farm animal welfare standards after Brexit. But some also saw Brexit as an opportunity to go beyond the status quo. In the words of the RSPCA:

“Brexit provides the UK with the unique opportunity to improve farm animal welfare without being constrained by harmonisation with EU legislation. Although the UK sees itself as operating some of the highest farm animal welfare standards, examples exist where it has fallen behind other countries in some areas”.34

They went on to note that:

“There are also opportunities to go further in certain areas where there is existing European legislation. These … include areas such as the welfare of animals during transport and slaughter, introducing method of production and slaughter labelling and, crucially, reforming the way that farm support payments are used to better safeguard animal welfare.”

20.The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF) agreed:

“Many of the UK’s food and farming policies have been shaped at EU level and the Government now has an opportunity to redefine these policies. We have the power to lead our own farming policies to advance farm animal welfare and implement higher standards than those under the EU laws.”35

21.Witnesses suggested several areas of farm animal welfare that could be improved post-Brexit. These included ending zero-grazing in dairy cows,36 mandatory veterinary visits for animal health,37 reducing antimicrobial resistance,38 ending slaughter without pre-stunning,39 and mandatory CCTV monitoring in abattoirs.40

22.The practice of exporting live animals for slaughter was of particular concern to several witnesses.41 The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation believed that “Meat should be exported ‘On The Hook Not On The Hoof’”.42 Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Adviser for CIWF, argued that “Once the UK is no longer constrained by EU law, live exports for slaughter and fattening should be banned”.43 He highlighted poor slaughter conditions in countries such as France as a key concern, noting that “EU slaughter welfare rules are simply broken regularly”.44 In supplementary written evidence, the CIWF qualified this position, arguing that a ban should not apply to breeding animals or the cross-border trade between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.45

23.The RSPCA called for the prohibition of “live exports of farm animals for slaughter and/or further fattening”, noting: “Brexit presents the UK with an opportunity to introduce its own rules on animal transport to achieve this, providing they are WTO compliant.”46 Mr Stevenson did not think that a ban on live exports would pose an issue under WTO rules,47 citing case law regarding public morals. Giving evidence to our inquiry into Brexit: agriculture the CVO told us: “Outside the EU framework, we are still bound by WTO rules. To ban the export of live animals, you would have to have a point of difference that allowed you to justifiably say that there was a basis to require that ban. That is being explored carefully by the Government.”48

24.Phil Stocker, Chief Executive of the NSA, acknowledged that there were concerns about “adherence to legislation” in other countries,49 He added, though, that “some of our sheep farmers in the south-east quartile of the country—Kent, Sussex and Surrey—are closer to abattoirs across the water and into northern France and Belgium than those in west Wales or up into Yorkshire”.50 Therefore, the NSA noted, “there are overseas routes to slaughter houses that result in a shorter journey for sheep from the SE of England than they would experience on an internal journey”.51 They therefore supported establishing assured journeys that would enable live trade while ensuring regulatory compliance.

25.Another suggestion was to update the statutory Codes of Recommendation (COR) on the welfare of livestock, which provide guidelines to help farmers achieve specified standards of good practice.52 Gudrun Ravetz, President of the BVA, told us the Codes were “out of date and do not take into account current and evolving welfare science”.53 Ms Bailey agreed: “As for the welfare codes in particular … They desperately need to be updated.”54 Ms Ravetz suggested that a review could “include welfare codes for species where there are currently no EU minimum standards”.55 CIWF agreed: “Detailed regulations should be made to safeguard the welfare of dairy cows, ducks, turkeys, farmed fish, beef cattle and sheep.”56

26.We note that in the run-up to the general election the Conservative Party manifesto stated: “We will continue to take action to improve animal welfare. We … will make CCTV recording in slaughterhouses mandatory. As we leave the European Union, we can take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter.”57

Welfare standards and competitiveness

27.Some witnesses, on the other hand, cautioned that raising standards could undermine UK farmers’ competitiveness. The AHDB told us that if the UK “set its own higher standards” it would need to “bear in mind how this might affect competitiveness in a market where price remains king and cheaper products, produced to lower standards would be available”.58 In her February statement in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister qualified her emphasis on the maintenance and improvement of “standards of welfare” with a reference to “ensuring of course that our industry is not put at a competitive disadvantage”.59 We discuss competitiveness and trade in Chapter 3.

28.Mark Williams, Chief Executive of BEIC, argued from an egg-industry perspective: “What we must avoid at all costs … is gold-plating for the sake of it. That reduces our competitiveness, and as the Government have said we are moving into this brave new world of freer trade.”60 In written evidence, BEIC added: “the Government should … be aware that legislating further would increase the cost of production at home.”61 Dr Georgina Crayford, Senior Policy Adviser at the NPA, also raised concerns for the pig sector, noting that in terms of standards, “We need to be cautious about raising standards so high that we end up exporting production abroad. We need to make sure that we have a sensible policy so that farm businesses can be profitable and sustainable.”62 She made it clear that the NPA wants “a level playing field, yes, but we want to level up rather than down”.

Research: informing policy

29.Mr Williams cautioned against any “unnecessary ratcheting up of animal welfare standards without a sound science and evidence base”.63 Richard Bennett, Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Reading, agreed that “policy needs to be based on good science, which in turn needs to be based on excellent scientific research”.64

30.Currently, the Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) produces independent scientific reports “on all aspects of animal diseases and animal welfare” that underpin proposed legislative changes across the EU.65 According to the RSPCA, “The EU has a long history of providing scientific information on farm animal welfare to inform legislation.”66 The CVO, in evidence to our inquiry Brexit: agriculture, agreed: “The European Food Safety Authority is a good example where they carry out assessments of risks to animal health and welfare and public health and then advise the Commission when it frames proposals for EU law.”67 As we set out in our report Brexit: agriculture, some stakeholders have argued that after Brexit the UK should explore ways to establish ongoing cooperation with EFSA, either by becoming an observer or by other means.68

31.The CVO noted that, post-Brexit, “We will need to inform our own legislation with our own assessments.”69 But the RPSCA warned that, in respect of farm animal welfare, there was no UK equivalent body: “No similar independent body exists in the UK other than the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC)70 which, unlike EFSA, is not mandated by Government to produce reports on animal welfare, and whose reports do not have the same status as EFSA reports in the legislative cycle.”71

32.The RSPCA also noted that the advice provided by EFSA was crucial for settling trade disputes internationally: “All WTO panels now examine the scientific expertise given to Government before a legislative decision has been made when they are adjudicating any complaint made about measures introduced by that Government.”72

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee

33.Bearing in mind the importance of AHAW advice through EFSA, many of our witnesses were emphatic that FAWC should be strengthened. The BPC told us FAWC would “need to have a fundamental role in setting Government policy on welfare issues”, and noted that it “would be the ideal lynchpin for partnership working between the interested parties”.73 Prof Bennett noted: “Its work, particularly in helping to interpret scientific research, will need to be enhanced.”74 Ms Bailey agreed: “We desperately need to give FAWC more powers, if we can, to produce reports in the way EFSA does and to take those forward. In fact, it is vital for the WTO to be able to do that.”75 Ms Batters concluded: “I really hope that out of today’s session we can send a very strong recommendation for strengthening FAWC in the future.”76

EU research funding

34.As Prof Bennett explained, “FAWC does not undertake research itself, so that fundamental research still needs to be funded and still needs to be done.”77 He added that UK academics and research institutes “have been really good … at winning EU research funding”, and that “unless we make some other arrangements for that research to be funded post-Brexit, there will be a real science information gap”.78 He concluded: “The UK has been a world leader in animal welfare research and animal health research, and we will lose that if we lose the funding.”79

35.In contrast, Ms Batters told us: “Some people are very worried, the universities in particular, but the likes of Fera80 and the public-private sector see this as an opportunity”.81 Prof Bennett countered: “I would like to be optimistic, as Fera was, but I do not think there will be alternative sources of funding when European funding goes unless the Government takes steps to make sure the funding is there.”82


36.UK farmers and producers are rightly proud of their high animal welfare standards. Our evidence suggests the industry is united in seeking to maintain these standards and the UK’s status as a world leader on farm animal welfare. We therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring high farm animal welfare standards are maintained after Brexit.

37.We note that transposing the body of EU farm animal welfare legislation into domestic law and delivering continued enforcement will require resources. Though we recognise and commend Defra for the preparatory work it has undertaken regarding the legislative transfer from the EU, we urge the Government to review whether Defra and its associated bodies have sufficient resources to deliver on the commitments made, particularly on enforcement.

38.The repatriation of farm animal welfare policy presents opportunities to review and improve farm animal welfare and standards, including the Codes of Recommendation for animal welfare in the UK and the practice of exporting live animals for slaughter. But the Government will also need to consider the effect of increasing standards on the competitiveness of UK producers and the future trading relationship with the EU. We encourage the Government to work in partnership with the industry to ensure that any policy changes support the long-term viability of UK farming and are based on sound evidence.

39.In leaving the EU, the UK will find itself outside the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) and therefore outside the Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW). It will be important to retain a degree of coordination with EFSA. We also heard strong support for giving the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) a stronger mandate and role in the legislative process, enabling it to inform government policy on farm animal welfare in the absence of input from AHAW. We therefore call on the Government to bolster the remit and resourcing of FAWC to ensure that farm animal welfare policy continues to be evidence based.

40.Much farm animal welfare research is funded through the EU and Brexit could lead to a major funding gap. This would have adverse effects on the long-term evidence base for policy making. We call on the Government to set out a strategy for how it will prevent such a shortfall.

10 RSPCA, ‘Eight out of ten people want Brexit to improve or maintain welfare’, (January 2017): [accessed 8 May 2017]

12 Written evidence from CLA (AWF0002)

13 Written evidence from the BMPA (AWF0005), NOAH (AWF0006), CIWF (AWF0007), NFU Scotland (AWF0009), BEIC (AWF0011), BPC (AWF0012), BVA (AWF0020) and NPA (AWF0023).

14 HC Deb, 8 February 2017, col 424

16 Written evidence from Soil Association (AWF0018)

17 Written evidence from the RSPCA (AWF0001); see also written evidence from CAWF (AWF0015) and NOAH (AWF0006).

18 Written evidence from CLA (AWF0002)

19 Written evidence from Farmwel (AWF0014)

20 Written evidence from the ALAW and WCL (AWF0017)

21 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017 (Session 2016–17), Q 72 (Pamela Thompson)

22 The Food and Veterinary Office

23 Written evidence from Red Tractor Assurance (AWF0010)

24 Written evidence from NFU Scotland (AWF0009)

25 Written evidence from AHDB (AWF0004)

26 Q 11 (Joe Bailey)

28 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017 (Session 2016–17), Q 72 (Professor Nigel Gibbens)

29 European Convention for the Protection of Animals during Transport, 13 December 1968: [accessed 22 June 2017], European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes, 10 March 1976: [accessed 22 June 2017], European Convention for the Protection of Animals for slaughter, 10 May 1979: [accessed 22 June 2017], Additional Protocol to the European Convention for the Protection of Animals during Transport, 10 May 1979: [accessed 22 June 2017], European Convention for the Protection of Animals during International Transport (Revised), 6 November 2003: [accessed 22 June 2017], European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes”, 6 February 1992: [accessed 22 June 2017].

30 Jessica Vapnek and Megan Chapman, Legislative and regulatory options for animal welfare, FAO Legislative Studies 104 (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2010), p 21: [accessed 8 May 2017]

31 House of Commons Library, Animal welfare standards in farming after the UK leaves the EU, Debate pack, CDP 2017/0025, 19 January 2017

32 The code covers general farm animal welfare, transport and slaughter and details specific recommendations for beef and dairy cattle, broiler chickens and fish. World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), Section 7 Animal Welfare, Terrestrial Animal Health Code 2016: [accessed 20 June 2017]

33 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017 (Session 2016–17), Q 73 (Professor Nigel Gibbens)

34 Written evidence from RSPCA (AWF0001)

35 Written evidence from CAWF (AWF0015)

36 Written evidence from CIWF (AWF0007)

37 Q 1 (Gudrun Ravetz)

38 Written evidence from BVA (AWF0020)

39 Written evidence from Animal Aid (AWF0008)

40 Written evidence from BVA (AWF0020)

41 See written evidence from CIWF (AWF0007), Animal Aid (AWF0008), RSPCA (AWF0001), World Horse Welfare (AWF0016), BVA (AWF0020) and CAWF (AWF0015)

42 Written evidence from CAWF (AWF0015)

45 Written evidence from CIWF (AWF0007)

46 Written evidence from RSPCA (AWF0001)

48 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017 (Session 2016–17), Q 78 (Professor Nigel Gibbens)

51 Written evidence from the NSA (AWF0003)

52 Defra, Farm Animals: looking after their welfare (15 October 2015): [accessed 16 May 2017]

56 Written evidence from CIWF (AWF0007)

57 The Conservative and Unionist Party, The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2017: Forward, Together: Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future, p 26: [accessed 4 July 2017]

58 Written evidence from AHDB (AWF0004)

59 HC Deb, 8 February 2017, col 424

61 By way of example they noted that the transition for battery cages had increased the cost of production by 7%. Written evidence from BEIC (AWF0011)

64 Q 1 (Professor Richard Bennett)

65 European Food Safety Authority, ‘Panel on Animal Health and Welfare’: [accessed 19 June 2017]

66 Written evidence from RSPCA (AWF0001)

67 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017 (Session 2016–17), Q 73 (Professor Nigel Gibbens)

68 European Union Committee, Brexit: agriculture (20th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 169), para 203

69 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017 (Session 2016–17), Q 73 (Professor Nigel Gibbens)

70 The Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) is an expert committee that advises the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales on the welfare of farmed animals: [accessed 10 July 2017]

71 Written evidence from RSPCA (AWF0001)

72 Written evidence from the RSPCA (AWF0001)

73 Written evidence from BPC (AWF0012), see also Q 5 (Joe Bailey).

80 Fera is the Food and Environment Research Agency.

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