Brexit: farm animal welfare Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

Maintaining standards

1.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 animal welfare standards are maintained after Brexit. (Paragraph 36)

2.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. (Paragraph 37)

3.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. (Paragraph 38)

4.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 animal welfare policy continues to be evidence based. (Paragraph 39)

5.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. (Paragraph 40)


6.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. (Paragraph 57)

7.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. (Paragraph 58)

8.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. (Paragraph 59)

Veterinary staff

9.Veterinarians play a key role in ensuring and inspecting farm animal health and welfare in the UK from farm to abattoir. They also play an important role in certifying animals in the context of trade. We note the overwhelming reliance on non-UK EU citizens to fill crucial official veterinary positions in the UK, and call on the Government to ensure that the industry is able to retain or recruit qualified staff to fill these roles post-Brexit. (Paragraph 66)

The role of consumers

10.Though citizens have high aspirations for farm animal welfare in the UK, as consumers they are not always aware of the difference between production systems or willing to pay a higher price for premium welfare products. This could exacerbate the challenge to UK farmers’ competitiveness arising from a potential increase in cheaper imports produced to lower welfare standards. (Paragraph 80)

11.Our evidence suggests that effective and transparent labelling has in some cases helped consumers to distinguish higher welfare products, thereby influencing consumer choices. Given the challenges that will face UK farmers in competing with lower welfare imports post-Brexit, there is now a strong case for simplifying labelling systems, to ensure consumers can easily process and act upon the farm animal welfare information contained in the label. We also note that some call for the introduction of mandatory country of origin and method of production labelling based on welfare outcomes. We urge the Government to consult with the industry, consumers and retailers to ensure that any new or simplified labels or labelling systems are effective and proportionate. (Paragraph 81)

12.We recognise that the retail and catering sectors, from supermarkets to restaurants, will continue to play a key role in promoting the uptake of high farm animal welfare throughout the food chain after Brexit. (Paragraph 82)

13.Voluntary assurance schemes have been effective in increasing standards across the UK and provide high levels of consumer confidence through their inspection and labelling systems. We call on the Government to encourage, and where possible facilitate, uptake of farm assurance schemes across the UK. (Paragraph 83)

14.We note that, for those products which are not produced under the auspices of a voluntary assurance scheme and the associated labelling system, there is a role for Government in setting mandatory labelling requirements. (Paragraph 84)

Financial support

15.We note the Minister’s stated intention to review options for prioritising farm animal welfare in future agriculture policy, including by means of grant support or incentive payments. Any decision to give financial support to higher welfare standards should be made on the basis of consultation with the industry; deliver public goods where there is market failure; and be targeted to minimise market distortion. Support would need to be justified and, as we noted in our report Brexit: agriculture, to be compatible with WTO rules. (Paragraph 93)

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