Factory farming and the cruelty that it entails is not restricted to any one continent, country, or culture. It is a global predicament, being both the biggest cause of animal cruelty and a major driver of environmental harm.
The concept of the European Union was born of a newfound hope for a prosperous future, free from war and poverty. Now, on the 23rd June, British citizens face a crucial decision on whether to remain in this union of diverse countries, or to break away and strive to be independent once again.
My organisation, Compassion in World Farming, is apolitical: our sole ambition is to change our broken food system that treats animals as commodities and trashes the environment while doing so. I have made it my life goal to improve the lives of animals worldwide, so when such complex political questions as these arise, I feel it is my duty to examine what the outcome might be for those who are unable to vote, yet will still be undoubtedly affected by the decision.
In the past, the UK has often taken a strong lead on implementing legislation to benefit farm animal welfare. Sadly, the UK government appears to have very little appetite for improving the welfare of farm animals recently, instead preferring to maximise production, productivity, and exports. It is clear from the government’s long-delayed 25-year plan for food and farming that animal welfare will not be a high priority when it comes to government policy going forward.
Other EU countries have started to overtake us. In December 2014, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark produced a Joint Declaration to call for substantial animal welfare improvements at EU level. The UK did not sign. At the same time, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark produced a Joint Declaration calling for a strengthening of EU law on animal welfare during transport, including an 8-hour limit on journeys to slaughter, which would greatly reduce animal suffering. The UK did not sign.
The EU is often a driver for advances in farm animal welfare. The ban on the barren battery cage for laying hens, and the Lisbon treaty recognising animals as sentient beings both come from European legislation. But when faced with 28 countries, each with their own internal problems and priorities, enforcing these laws can be a huge challenge. Thirteen years after the EU law requiring provision of enrichment and banning routine tail docking of pigs came into force, a proportion of pig farmers in many EU countries, including the UK, are still not complying.
In our fight against live exports, we have been told time and again that since animals are legally considered ‘goods’, it would be unlawful under EU regulations to ban the trade of live animals. And yet, if we left the EU, the trade would most likely continue. Indeed, trade between the UK and member states would then be governed by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, which, just like the EU regulations, prohibit trade restrictions on ‘goods’. Therefore, any attempt to ban live exports could face a challenge by the WTO, and without strong political will to see an end to the trade, any such move would be unlikely.
There are so many unknowns that it is impossible to say for certain whether animals would fare better inside or outside the EU. One thing I can say for sure, is that regardless of the outcome of the vote, Compassion in World Farming and myself will continue to do everything that we can to give the voteless a voice, and stand up for farm animals in the UK, the EU, and worldwide.