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Take action in the EU referendum

News Icon 20/06/2016

Earlier this month, I examined what could happen for farm animals if the UK decides to leave the EU on the 23rd June.

As the referendum debate comes to a crescendo, with polling day just around the corner, I feel it is important to review the arguments for and against leaving the EU.

A brief summary follows of what Compassion in World Farming believes to be the main points affecting animal welfare for both campaigns:


  • If the UK left the EU it would be better able to ban live exports. However, there would need to be political will to do so and the government has demonstrated little appetite for taking action to end live exports. Moreover, a ban on live exports could be challenged under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules which would govern UK trade if it left the EU. The WTO rules are less restrictive than the EU free trade rules although they represent a significant obstacle to restrictions on trade.
  • If we leave the EU, the UK – freed from the constraints of EU free trade rules – may be able to raise its animal welfare standards while protecting UK farmers by banning lower welfare imports. However, trade in animal products would still be governed by the WTO rules which, though allowing more latitude than the EU’s rules, would hamper the UK’s ability to ban lower welfare imports.


  • The EU has pioneered some real achievements for animal welfare, including the ban on the barren battery cage and the Lisbon treaty recognising animals as sentient beings; although, enforcement of EU laws remains an issue.
  • As a leading EU member state, the UK has influence over legislation and policy in the rest of Europe, creating the potential for far-reaching improvements for animal welfare; whilst ensuring that any higher standards emanating within the EU also apply to British farm animals. However, the UK has not used its influence in the EU for the good of animal welfare for many years. Indeed, in the case of cloning, it has blocked progress by opposing any restrictions on this harmful practice.

I have been interested to read the positions on the referendum from like-minded organisations and friends. Many have come out strongly in favour of remain. Greenpeace say ‘we’re in’; as do Friends of the Earth, WWF and RSPB.

Others, like us, have remained neutral. For example, The Fawcett Society hosted a debate on the issue to explore both sides of the argument. Women’s Aid urged the campaigns to consider women’s rights as a crucial issue.

I should add that some supporters have said that they favour Brexit as it may make it easier to ban live exports but this would depend entirely on political will.

We have done our utmost to provide our supporters with a clear, non-biased view of the future for farm animals under both outcomes. On the day of the referendum, I will be in Brussels alongside other animal welfare organisations, continuing to push for better animal welfare.

Whatever the outcome, Compassion will keep fighting to improve farm animal welfare.


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