41.In our report Brexit: agriculture we noted that EU membership has facilitated trade in agri-food products within the Single Market through harmonised legislation. The EU applies these standards to products from outside the EU as well. As Ms Batters noted: “You cannot get into the European market unless you adhere to those standards.” The RSPCA agreed: “The EU’s agreed body of farm animal welfare legislation gives a high degree of consistency on standards and a level playing field for trade in farm products.”
42.Outside the EU, the UK will need to re-negotiate its trading relations with third countries as well as the EU. The AHDB told us that “if the ‘free trade’ ambition is successful it will be difficult to stop the UK market from being flooded with imports produced to different and by inference, lower welfare standards”. They added: “This does not prevent the UK from setting and maintaining its own domestic standards, though this would create an unequal playing field for UK producers.”
43.NFU Scotland was also worried about food produced to a lower standard entering the UK, “thus undermining … the high standards of domestic producers”, while BEIC cautioned:
“As the government presses ahead on negotiating bilateral Free Trade Agreements with other (non-EU) countries, it could be tempted to allow imports of cheap products, produced to lower standards than our own, in an effort to keep a lid on food price inflation as a result of the lower value of sterling.”
Ms Batters summarised the concern: “We see the greatest threat to welfare coming from products coming on to this market that are produced to different standards and within a different regulatory framework.”
44.Dr Crayford told us: “The big concern, certainly in the pig industry, is the talk from some government members that we need to pursue a cheap food policy.” Ms Batters agreed: “Food potentially becomes the victim in all this, which is why we have to champion what we have at the moment, because we start from a very sound place.” She cautioned against listening to “the cheap food brigade” and their argument that “Brexit is going to be great, because we will have cheaper food on the back of it”. Instead, Ms Batters warned:
“We could be opened up to other nations, and this is not just about standards but the whole regulatory framework that underpins them … we need to expose the cheap-food political commentators, whose laptops are their farmyard, for what they are. That is the greatest threat to welfare in this country.”
45.Mr Stocker shared her concern:
“I hear members of the Cabinet often suggesting that we in the sheep industry need to raise our welfare standards, add value, have a more expensive product, build our export markets, and at the same time give British consumers access to cheaper imported sheep meat. We have a major problem if we are building our industry on exports and feeding our consumers with imported, cheaper products.”
ALAW and the WCL also warned that “There have already been declarations of intent to erode welfare standards post Brexit, and the UK government needs to stand very firmly against this”.
46.Were UK farmers to seek to compete with such imports, welfare standards could be diminished to level the playing field. In the words of Mr Mallon: “This is about maintaining standards. If you want us to compete economically with those countries, you are going to have to say that you will reduce those standards. No farmer in my association wants to reduce our standards just to compete with world trade.” He gave an example: “A growth promoter would make us more efficient. It is not necessarily going to be what a consumer wants, but it would give us efficiency so we can compete. Our farmers are saying, ‘We don’t want to do that.’”
47.In our report Brexit: agriculture we noted that quality could be a selling point for UK farmers, if they were unable to compete on price alone. This point was borne out by Dr Siobhan Mullan from the School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol, who argued that “UK farmers will never be able to compete on price in many global markets”. The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, went on record in October 2016 to say that “our unique selling point both at home and abroad should be the highest standards of animal welfare”.
48.The CLA, echoing the Secretary of State, told us: “The UK’s high welfare standards, along with traceability and food safety requirement, mean that many UK products are seen as premium products domestically and across the world and are in high demand.” Red Tractor Assurance was clear that “UK farming will never compete as the lowest cost producer so its main capital is an inherent trust in British standards.” They added:
“The challenge will be to achieve the correct balance between standards that meet the aspirations of UK citizens; that are sufficient to provide a USP for British producers against import substitution at home and meet the needs of export markets; but which avoid adding costs to British production that would make it uncompetitive both at home and abroad.”
Farmwel also cited “strong evidence” that “there is a reliable market for higher welfare products in Britain (as demonstrated by cage-free egg and higher welfare pork sales), and that there is a largely untapped market for higher welfare products around the world”. BVA agreed: “A market exists for high standards of animal welfare.”
49.By contrast, the BMPA told us: “We are not aware of any export markets that are prepared to pay a premium for higher welfare product (and welfare should not be confused with animal health). We would like to see evidence that indicates there are before any changes are made to try and satisfy this ‘demand’.”
50.AHDB focused on the costs associated with producing to higher standards, telling us that “if the UK does choose to further enhance its standards, it will have to rely on UK and International consumers being prepared to preferentially choose and probably pay more for UK product on the basis of these standards”. We review the role of consumers in Chapter 5.
51.To mitigate the risks associated with competing against cheaper imports, Mr Stevenson recommended that “when negotiating new trade agreements, the Government should insist on the inclusion of a clause that permits the UK to require imports to meet UK standards”. The RSPCA agreed, giving the example of the EU-Chile trade agreement, which led to “an improvement in animal welfare [in Chile] and increased trade in higher welfare products into the EU”.
52.We concluded in our report Brexit: agriculture that farm animal welfare provisions could and should be included in free trade agreements after Brexit. CIWF noted that, in the absence of such provisions, the UK should “press for the ability to place differential tariffs on imports”, whereby “imports that do not conform to UK welfare standards would be subject to tariffs that are sufficiently high to safeguard UK farmers; imports that meet UK welfare standards would benefit from a low or zero tariff”.
53.On 15 March 2017 the Prime Minister stated: “We will maintain the UK’s high standards of food safety and of animal welfare; that will be a priority for us. Any trade deals we enter into will need to be right for consumers, for businesses and for farmers, and will need to ensure … animal welfare.”
54.As we noted in our report Brexit: agriculture, in the absence of free trade agreements, international trade is governed by World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. For a more detailed consideration of WTO rules and trade in agri-food products, we refer to that report.
55.WTO rules impose limits on the extent to which countries can restrict imports on the basis of welfare concerns. But as we noted in Brexit: agriculture, recent developments in WTO case law indicate a shift towards allowing such restrictions. Mr Stevenson argued that “This assumption that we cannot have any import restrictions on animal welfare grounds is not true. It ignores WTO case law of the last 16 years.” He continued: “A number of cases have shown that a country can require imports to meet welfare standards equivalent to its own, provided that there is no element of discrimination favouring domestic producers.” He also told us “WTO case law has made it very clear that trade restrictions can be justified on the grounds of what it calls public morals, and it has ruled that animal welfare is an issue of public morals in the European Union, including obviously the UK”. In written evidence, CIWF elaborated: “The EU requires imported meat to be derived from animal slaughtered to welfare standards equivalent to its own and this has not been challenged under the WTO rules.”
56.Nevertheless, we note the CVO’s statement in the course of our inquiry into Brexit: agriculture that “In WTO terms, animal welfare is not a legitimate barrier to trade”, and CLA’s acknowledgement that WTO rules are “untested and unclear on the ability for the UK to ban the import of agricultural products produced to lower welfare standards”.
57.Our evidence strongly suggests that the greatest threat to farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit would come from UK farmers competing against cheap, imported food from countries that produce to lower standards than the UK. Unless consumers are willing to pay for higher welfare products, UK farmers could become uncompetitive and welfare standards in the UK could come under pressure.
58.In our report Brexit: agriculture we concluded that “It may be hard to reconcile the Government’s wish for the UK to become a global leader in free trade with its desire to maintain high quality standards for agri-food products within the UK”. We take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of this conclusion.
59.In the same report we concluded that “There is some doubt over whether animal welfare can be used as a rationale to restrict imports from other countries under WTO rules. However, we encourage the Government to secure the inclusion of high farm animal welfare standards in any free trade agreements it negotiates after Brexit.” The evidence heard in the present inquiry underlines the importance and urgency of this conclusion. We also urge the Government to explore the recent developments in WTO case law highlighted by witnesses as examples of permissible import restrictions on the grounds of animal welfare.
83 European Union Committee, (20th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 169), paras 40–41
85 Written evidence from RSPCA ()
86 Written evidence from AHDB (
87 Written evidence from NFU Scotland ()
88 Written evidence from BEIC ()
93 Written evidence from ALAW and WCL ()
96 European Union Committee, (20th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 169), paras 131–133
98 Quoted in House of Commons Library, Animal welfare standards in farming after the UK leaves the EU, Debate pack, , 19 January 2017
99 Written evidence from CLA ()
100 Written evidence from Red Tractor Assurance ()
101 Written evidence from Farmwel ()
102 Written evidence from BVA ()
103 Written evidence from the BMPA ()
104 Written evidence from AHDB ()
106 Written evidence from RSPCA ()
107 European Union Committee, (20th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 169), para 151
108 Written evidence from CIWF ()
109 HC Deb, 15 March 2017,
110 European Union Committee (20th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 169), paras 143–145
113 Written evidence from CIWF ()
114 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017 (Session 2016–17), (Professor Nigel Gibbens)
115 Written evidence from CLA ()