UK trade agreements could seriously impact animal welfare. Read on to find out the latest situation, what is at stake, and what we are doing to help protect farm animal welfare in the UK.
Why is trade being discussed now?
As Britain leaves the European Union (EU), it will be able to set its own trade policy for the first time in almost 50 years – previously trade policy has been set by the EU, as a result of the UK being a Member State.
Setting trade policy includes determining the rules on what food products can be imported into the UK. Whilst the UK’s farming standards could certainly be improved, they are higher than almost any other country (aside from those within the EU, because our farm animal welfare rules derive from EU Regulations and Directives).
What are the choices facing the UK?
As the UK leaves the EU, it is faced with two choices. HM Government could opt to maintain existing standards and requirements that need to be met for certain products to be permitted into the UK – an option that would leave open the possibility of further improving our domestic animal welfare legislation. Or the UK could opt to lower the bar on the products allowed onto our supermarket shelves, ultimately entering us into a race to the bottom where we seek to compete on who can produce at the lowest price.
This decision alone will have a bigger impact on the UK’s standards of animal welfare, food safety or environmental protection than any other single policy area – and the ramifications could be felt for decades to come: it will impact upon both the food British citizens may end up eating as well as having a knock-on effect on the livelihoods of higher-welfare farmers within the UK.
How far have trade talks progressed with our major trading partners?
The UK is currently in the transition period of leaving the EU – this is set to end on 31st December 2020. From that date, a new trading relationship will come into effect with the EU and all other countries. HM Government is in the process of negotiating that new relationship with the EU. A number of rounds have already taken place, with further rounds scheduled up until late August 2020.
Alongside the EU talks, several other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are being negotiated. One of the priorities for the UK Government is securing an FTA with the USA – talks take place every six weeks, with each round lasting for two weeks.
Negotiations are also ongoing with countries including Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
What is happening in Parliament?
In addition to the FTAs being negotiated by the UK Government, a number of Bills that will impact upon farming standards in the UK are going through Parliament. Most notably, the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill. Both these Bills could have serious implications for farm animal welfare.
The Agriculture Bill seeks to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) area-based subsidy scheme with payments for farmers who deliver on areas such as animal welfare and the environment – a shift in priorities welcomed by Compassion. But there is a major risk that the improvements the Bill could bring in are entirely undermined by the trade deals the UK secures. Compassion, alongside a wide range of NGO and industry bodies, and MPs from all parties, call for the Bill to protect our existing standards and prevent imports that do not meet them.
The Agriculture Bill has completed its House of Commons stages and is now going through the Lords. Despite an amendment, tabled by the Environment Select Committee, to protect against low-standard imports, the Government insist these measures are unnecessary and that we already have those protections in place.
The Trade Bill, which focuses more on rolling over FTAs that the UK is party to because of EU membership, also offers the opportunity to secure protections against lower standard imports. It would potentially ensure that Parliament is fully involved in setting out the negotiating position, scrutinising and then ratifying FTAs. Again, something that has broad cross-sectoral support but has been opposed by Government.
What is the UK Government's position?
The Government has said that we will not see our animal welfare standards diluted as we leave the EU - indeed, when Michael Gove was Defra Secretary, he committed us to being a global leader on animal welfare. And the 2019 Conservative Manifesto stated that, “In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards,” a commitment that was most welcome.
However, as things stand, the FTAs we strike with 3rd parties pose a serious threat to that commitment to uphold our standards and we feel the Bills going through Parliament do not contain sufficient protections for the UK’s higher welfare farmers or our animal welfare standards.
The UK Government has proposed using ‘dual tariffs’ to resolve this issue. Tariffs are effectively ‘taxes’ that are placed on goods entering our market. The Government’s proposal would involve charging a higher rate for products entering the UK that do not meet our standards, and a lower rate for those that do. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, tariffs should be one of a host of mechanisms used to protect our standards – in addition to import bans – not the only one.
A significant concern is that these tariffs would merely become a starting point for any trade negotiations (with the USA or others), rather than an end point – once the principle has been accepted that low-welfare, low-quality food can be imported, even with a high tariff, there will be steady pressure to reduce the tariff over time. The solution to that situation would be legislation that prevents certain products being imported under the terms of any FTA in the first place – something that the defeated amendment to the Agriculture Bill sought to achieve.
What is Compassion calling for?
When negotiating trade agreements, the UK must not accept clauses that require the UK to permit the import of meat and dairy products, or eggs, that are produced to lower animal welfare standards than those of the UK.
The UK has a considerable body of legislation on the welfare of farm animals. Many of the countries the UK is seeking an FTA with do not – in some cases, regarding farm animals, there is almost none!
The UK should resist calls for regulatory coherence with these countries – how does one do that when there are no regulations to align with? If the UK were to seek a level playing field with lower standard nations, it will make it very difficult for the UK to adopt good new legislation on farm animal welfare and may well create pressure on the UK to dilute its existing standards.
To avert this danger, the UK must insist on the inclusion of a clause in these FTAs permitting it to require imports to meet UK animal welfare standards. Such proposals are likely to meet with resistance – particularly by the US negotiators.
The overall impact of any FTA that the UK ratifies should not be that it makes it more difficult for the UK to improve its animal welfare standards – and certainly should not create a downward pressure on existing UK standards.
Furthermore, there is very little scrutiny of trade negotiations – something the Trade Bill could address. This is particularly the case when it comes to setting tariffs: parliamentarians have no mechanism to challenge the tariffs that the executive lodge with the WTO (or amendments by the Government to existing tariffs). So, over a period of time, the Government could choose to gradually reduce these tariffs – potentially to zero. This, of course, would then offer no protection against low standard imports whatsoever.
If the UK were to go down the tariff route, the challenge would be a) making sure that any tariff is sufficiently high to effectively keep a given product permanently off the supermarket shelves and b) to ensure that tariff isn’t removed as part of any FTA.
The Government should legislate to protect UK standards, through amendments to several Bills currently going through Parliament (such as the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill). And it should make clear that it will treat any request for access for lower standard imports to the UK as a red line that is not going to be included in any trade agreement.
What has Compassion done so far?
Earlier this year, Compassion representatives gave evidence to the Agriculture Bill Committee and the Environment Select Committee on the animal welfare implications of the Agriculture Bill. These sessions also examined the potential impact of trade agreements on the standard of imported foods.
Following these evidence sessions and many discussions with individual MPs, several important amendments were tabled to the Bill. Most importantly, on the issue of trade, amendments were tabled that aimed to prohibit imports that don’t meet our standards: if adopted, these amendments would have helped to prevent higher welfare British farming being undermined by poor trade deals, and it gained strong cross-party support. This included New Clause 2 to the Agriculture Bill, in the name of the Environment Select Committee.
277 MPs voted for the amendment – including 22 Conservative politicians who defied the Whip and rebelled against the Government by joining with their opposition colleagues to vote for much-needed protections. Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated.
In addition to the ‘public’ lobbying of Committees, we have also sent multiple briefings at the various stages of the debates / Bills progress through Parliament, and had a number of meetings with MPs from all parties.
The Agriculture Bill is now being considered by the House of Lords, where there has previously been strong support for protecting animal welfare standards in trade deals. So, we are working hard for the amendment to be reintroduced at that stage. We have already been in touch with a range of Peers on all sides of the House about this.
Last year we secured a similar change to the Trade Bill that would have replicated trade deals the UK had, through EU membership, with countries such as Canada, Switzerland and South Korea. However, because of the general election, this Bill did not become law. A new Trade Bill has now been published and we are once more demanding that it requires imports to meet UK welfare standards.
Supporting all of this has been Compassion’s dedicated army of supporters, who sent supporter emails to their MPs. Over 18,000 emails were sent to MPs about the Agriculture Bill, and a further 17,000 emails to MPs on the issue of animal welfare standards in trade deals.
Compassion will continue to lobby MPs on this issue in the coming months – and particularly when the Agriculture Bill returns to the Commons later this year.
Please sign our open letter to the UK Government calling for animals to be protected in future UK trade deals.
- Briefing on the proposed US-UK Trade talks, Compassion in World Farming
- Agriculture Bill Briefing, Compassion in World Farming
- Trade Bill Briefing, Compassion in World Farming
- UK-EU FTA Briefing, Eurogroup for Animals UK-EU Taskforce
- UK-US FTA Briefing, Eurogroup for Animals UK EU Taskforce
- UK Trade Policy Briefing, Eurogroup for Animals UK EU Taskforce
Are you choosing Happy Chickens?
Compassion in World Farming believes that suffering at slaughter can be avoided, provided certain basic principles are met:
- The transport and handling of the animal prior to slaughter minimises stress
- Death is instantaneous, or
- The animal is instantaneously stunned and remains unconscious until dead
- The method of inducing unconsciousness and death is not in itself likely to cause stress
The law requires animals in the EU to be effectively stunned before slaughter. However, exceptions are made which permit some religious communities to slaughter without pre-stunning. This applies to slaughter by the Jewish method (Shechita) or by the Muslim method (Halal).
Compassion believes there should be no exemptions, and the law should be changed to require all animals to be effectively stunned before slaughter, regardless of the slaughter method that is then used (this also applies to mis-stunning in conventional abattoirs). We also believe that all slaughterhouses should have CCTV installed in order to assist with the monitoring of slaughter and to help prevent cruelty.
Welfare concerns in the EU
Loop-holes, poor enforcement, and a lack of suitable legislations can all impact the welfare of animals at the time of slaughter. There are a range of serious welfare concerns currently affecting vast numbers of animals across Europe.
- Derogations to EU law allow animals to be slaughtered without pre-stunning for consumption by the Jewish and Muslim community. Slaughter without effective pre-stunning causes unacceptable suffering.
- In the EU around 1 billion chickens a year are ineffectively stunned prior to slaughter. They experience an agonising electric shock that fails to properly stun them followed by the full pain and fear of being slaughtered while fully conscious.
- It is becoming increasingly common across Europe to use high concentrations of CO2 gas to make pigs unconscious prior to slaughter. CO2 gas results in a burning and then drowning-like sensation and can cause around 15-30 seconds of very severe suffering prior to the pigs losing consciousness.
- Every year over 2 million animals are exported live out of the EU. They are sent to countries where they receive no legal protection at the time of slaughter. Many face agonising, drawn out slaughter.
- Roughly 1 billion fish are farmed and slaughtered in the EU each year. Most are slaughtered in ways that are inhumane and illegal. EU law requires fish to be spared avoidable suffering at slaughter. The technology exists to make fish unconscious prior to slaughter, but instead the vast majority are left to suffocate or killed while fully conscious in ways that cause immense suffering.
- It has become apparent that huge numbers of animals in the EU – roughly 18% of all sheep, and 27% of all goats – are not killed in official slaughter houses. This means that their slaughter goes entirely unregulated, and much of this is likely to be inhumane.
The European Commission has, time and time again, failed to take seriously the issue of the welfare of animals at slaughter. As a result, billions of animals suffer needlessly every year. Please call on the EU Commission to fulfil its role to protect animal welfare across all Member States.
Animal slaughter : A global issue
Whenever possible Compassion also takes action to tackle inhumane slaughter around the world whether it’s pushing for training and funding to be made available to improve conditions outside Europe, or sharing knowledge and assisting other campaign groups.
Help us end cruel food
1 million birds die each year
Compassion believes that no animal should suffer for food production. A European Council Directive states: “No animal shall be provided with food or liquid in a manner... which may cause unnecessary suffering or injury”. Yet around one million birds die during this cruel feeding process every single year. Many countries have banned the force feeding of animals for foie gras. But the suffering goes on. Annually more than 19,000 tonnes of foie gras are being produced in France alone.
What is Compassion doing?
Compassion is working to get Foie Gras Production banned across Europe by lobbying member states and the European Commission. We have also taken specific action against new Foie Gras facilities that are being developed. Check out the timeline below for more information
What can I do?
- If you know of a retailer or restaurant selling Foie Gras, ask them to re-consider. Please contact us for ‘fairer food’ cards to leave with food business managers.
- Campaign with us for improved welfare for all farmed animals.
Foie gras farms are temporarily closed in France70,911 people send an e-card to French Agriculture Minister, urging continued shutdown of French Foie Gras industry following national closure caused by disease outbreak.
Compassion takes part in an event at the EU Parliament opposing foie gras productionCompassion’s Olga Kikou speaks about the animal welfare problem and the potential illegalities of foie gras production.
Cloning = Cruelty
The case against cloning
The aim of cloning farm animals is to produce replicas of the animals with the highest economic value, for example the fastest-growing pigs or the highest-yielding dairy cows. However the process of cloning itself causes animal suffering and the animals with the highest economic value are prone to developing severe health problems – pushed to their physical limits, they are condemned to a lifetime of suffering.
The Cloning = Cruelty campaign highlights the intrinsic animal welfare issues of selective breeding in animals for food – i.e. meat and dairy. Research also shows that many cloned farm animals are born with deformed organs and live short and miserable lives.
Animals involved in the cloning process suffer
The cloning of farm animals can involve great suffering. A cloned embryo has to be implanted into a surrogate mother who carries it to birth. Cloned embryos tend to be large and can result in painful births that are often carried out by Caesarean section. Many clones die during pregnancy or birth. Of those that survive, a significant proportion die in the early days and weeks of life from problems such as heart, liver and kidney failure.
The political situation
On 8th September MEPs will take a vote on whether to ban the cloning of farm animals in Europe. Please send a message to your MEPs to ask that they vote in support of a ban on cloning. The future of farm animals in Europe may depend on it.
What is Compassion doing?
Compassion will continue, with its European partners, to fight the introduction of cloning animals for food.
- Compassion is calling on Members of the European Parliament to vote in favour of a ban on cloning animals in Europe on 8th September 2015. Write to your MEPs and ask them to make the EU a no clone zone.
- With World Animal Protection, we have produced an independent report on the welfare implications of cloning. The full report and a four-page summary with policy recommendations are available to download.
Video diary of our Cameron Clones march to Downing Street
Hundreds of millions of pigs around the world are kept in factory farms. Just under 1 billion animals in the world today are pigs. Over 500 million of these pigs live in industrialised systems, known as factory farms. Being kept in such intensive conditions has severe health and welfare implications for the animals involved.
Compassion in World Farming has campaigned for many years to ensure higher welfare standards for pigs. During this time we have seen vital steps forward, including the recognition of animals as sentient beings within the EU (Lisbon Treaty, 2009), and the passage of legislation such as Council Directive 2008/120/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs.
What we are doing: Project Pig
Getting sows out of stalls
Project Pig is Compassion’s campaign to build on the legislative advances made within the EU, with specific regard to enforcing the Pigs Directive across Europe. Our initial emphasis was on the 2013 Sow Stall Ban, and Project Pig lobbied DEFRA, the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU Agriculture Ministers to stop some of the routine abuses of pig welfare and seek to ensure that all nations were fully compliant with the Sow Stall ban when it came into force on 1st Jan 2013. A number of countries continue to be non-compliant on this ban.
Enforcing European pig welfare law
We also monitor and make formal complaints to the European Commission regarding breaches of the Pigs Directive by EU countries which can result in these countries being taken to the European Court. In February 2013 the European Commission began infraction proceedings against 9 EU Member States for failing to be compliant with the ban. By January 2014 this number had fallen to 6 non-compliant Member States.
Between March 2013 and March 2014, 475,576 people signed our petition calling on every EU Agriculture Minister to ensure that their country complies fully with the EU Pigs Directive.
Over the coming years we will continue to press for 100% compliance with the sow stall ban whilst also seeking to ensure a reduction in routine tail docking of pigs produced in the EU, enforcement of the requirement regarding the provision of enrichment materials, and for the Commission to agree to full transparency on compliance levels with the Pigs Directive.
Croatia joins the EUCroatia's level of Compliance with the Sow Stall ban is unknown (but presumed to not be fully compliant).
Nine nations not compliant with sow stall banEuropean Commission begins infraction proceedings against nine nations not compliant with sow stall ban
EU sow stall ban takes effectUse of sow stalls following the first four weeks of pregnancy banned in all 27 EU Member States
EU Lisbon TreatyAnimals continue to be recognised as sentient beings in EU Lisbon Treaty
Report shows routine tail docking continuesEFSA Report states that over 90% of pigs in the EU are tail-docked despite the practice of docking tails routinely having been illegal since 2003
Routine tail docking banned in the EU
EU sow stall banEU follows the example set by the UK (and Sweden and Luxembourg) and agrees a ban on sow stalls
UK sow stall banUK bans sow stalls after campaign by Compassion in World Farming
Animals recognised as sentient beings in EU law
Cows Belong in Fields. That is the simple premise behind Compassion in World Farming’s dairy campaign. And we are working to ensure that all cows have access to fields and pasture rather than being permanently housed with thousands of other cows, confined in giant sheds and milked three times a day - as they would potentially be in mega-dairies.
Our work on dairy cows is two-fold: within the European Union (EU) we seek to secure policy changes that will improve the welfare of all the EU’s dairy cows. In the UK we are working to ensure that all UK cows have pasture access and we peacefully oppose mega dairy applications.
What we are doing
Dairy truth: EU dairy investigation
Compassion in World Farming has long called for Europe’s cows to be given the same species specific protection that is afforded other EU farm animals, such as pigs and hens. In the Summer of 2012, Compassion in World Farming’s investigation team went undercover in over 50 farms in Germany, Denmark and Spain to highlight the welfare problems faced by Europe’s cows. Some of the footage is shocking, and it is not limited to just those three countries but a problem across many European nations.
- Find out more about the investigation, and read eyewitness accounts.
- Watch the film and take action to protect our dairy cows.
The need for European legislation
As part of this work to improve dairy cow welfare, Compassion formed a coalition with ice cream producers Ben and Jerry’s (a winner of Compassion’s Good Dairy Award) and The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) in 2012 to work, under the banner of Supporting Better Dairy.
Our ask: that the European Commission introduce an EU Dairy Cow Welfare Directive that will aim to protect the welfare of over 23m dairy cows. By ensuring:
- Good Housing
- Good Feeding
- Good Health
- Cows being able to express their natural behaviours
In October 2013, a petition containing almost 300,000 names was handed to the European Commission to demand the urgent introduction of legislation to protect the welfare of dairy cows. You can read more about this event here.
The campaign for pasture access and against mega-dairies
‘Cows belong in Fields’ was the name of our campaign against Nocton Dairies – the UK’s first proposed mega-dairy. The simple premise of the campaign was so successful that we have now adopted the ‘Cows Belong in Fields’ name for our entire UK dairy campaign. Wherever possible we oppose mega dairy applications and we continue to work to ensure that all cows have access to pasture.Error loading Partial View script (file: ~/Views/MacroPartials/InsertCallToActionButton.cshtml)
Compassion in World Farming believe that all cows should have access to pasture, at least during the grass growing season and during the rest of the year if the weather remains sufficiently dry.