Government plans to ratchet up animal welfare rules must not leave UK producers unfairly disadvantage, say livestock industry leaders.
Plans for legislative changes in key areas covering animal welfare were unveiled in last month’s Queen’s speech. Although some of the intentions were seen as welcome, farm leaders say others could have unintended consequences.
The proposals cover five key areas, including recognition of sentience, and the consideration of animal welfare in policy making and trade negotiations, along with enhanced protection for livestock, pets, and wild animals.
National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said: “There were both welcome and unwelcome intentions outlined within the Queens Speech and as is often the case the devil will be in the detail as these Bills get developed.
“We are enthusiastic about being a global leader in health and welfare standards, but these have to be based on evidence and practicality. It will not advance welfare of animals if these standards aren’t a requirement for food imports to the UK.”
Mr Stocker said the NSA remained highly concerned over proposals on livestock journey times and welfare in transport. He added: “We do not feel that an outright ban on live exports for slaughter is necessary.
“We believe there are more creative and intelligent ways to ensure good welfare outcomes and that there are cases where moving animals short distances across the English Channel makes sense.”
Better animal health and wellbeing was to be welcomed, said Mr Stocker. But he added: “Clarity is still sought on exactly what support will look like for health and welfare enhancements that are valued by the public.”
Low standard imports
NFU President Minette Batters said British farmers were proud to have some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world and it was clear the government wanted to be a global leader in this area.
But farmers must not be undermined by lower standard imports. “We want to see the same energy and leadership that is being proposed for protecting endangered species and wildlife crime to be applied to our asks in equivalence in trade.
“I have serious concerns about the government’s intention to raise the bar at home, without any certainty that the same standards will be applied to imports. There are still many practices allowed [overseas] that are banned here on welfare grounds.”
Mrs Batters said it was not uncommon to see journey times for live animals in Australia exceed 24 hours without access to feed or water. In comparison, the UK had consulted on reducing domestic journey times in the UK to eight hours.
“If the government is to raise the welfare bar here, it must do so for food imports. We cannot have a situation where British farmers adhere to some of the highest standards, only to be undercut by imports that barely meet the lowest rung on the ladder.”