“The government’s wish for the UK to become a global leader in free trade is not necessarily compatible with its desire to maintain high animal welfare standards,” The House of Lords subcommittee on EU Energy and Environment
“A coalition of leading environmental groups says there is a ‘significant risk’ that British environmental protections will be reduced after Brexit, despite the government’s positive rhetoric.”
Well, somehow she (and by ‘she’ I mean the woman who wrote into the 2017 Tory manifesto her intention to repeal the ban on fox hunting. Yes, that ‘she’) She somehow got her Brexit through the Cabinet, and the 27 EU states have ceremonially signed it off. The next step is a Parliamentary vote. Who knows what will happen there? And as for after the vote, it’s anyone’s guess.
As the Brexit juggernaut rolls inexorably towards the edge of the cliff, what will it mean for our UK animals and nature?
Here are some disturbing reasons why all animal – and nature-lovers will want to do their damnedest to stop the juggernaut in its tracks, because Brexit is bad news for UK nature and its animals, wherever they are: in labs, in the wild or on farms.
What the EU meant for animal welfare before Brexit
The EU is renowned in the world for its pro-animal stance and high standards of animal welfare. Article 13 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty recognises nonhuman animals as ‘sentient beings’ for whom suffering and distress should be diminished as much as possible. Last year the UK Tory government rejected Article 13 – a foretaste of things to come?
Check this link for a comprehensive list of the EU’s achievements for animals The European Parliament’s Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals
Of our current legislation regulating animal welfare and the environment, 80% comes from our membership of the EU.
Under the Repeal Bill, “All existing EU legislation will be copied across into domestic UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day after Brexit. The UK Parliament can then ‘amend, repeal and improve’ individual laws as necessary.”
It’s increasingly unlikely that all these laws can be adequately translated into UK law without the access we previously had to EU organisations, and against the ticking Brexit clock. “Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Andrea Leadsom admitted that about a third of environmental laws … could not initially be brought into UK legislation.”
And “MPs fear ministers may use the process of adapting those laws to chip away environmental protections.” This is a government that favours deregulation to give greater freedom to business. In this respect Theresa May and Donald Trump do indeed hold hands. Nature and animals will be the losers.
Additionally, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee fears EU legislation that does get adopted into UK law could become ‘zombie legislation’, no longer subject to EU updates and with no regulatory bodies to see it enforced.
The Birds and Habitats Directives which protect wild birds and Britain’s most important wildlife and plant habitats will not be adopted into UK law, even if the UK remains in the Single Market. A report on the directives “warns that this could have potentially far-reaching negative consequences for the UK’s biodiversity.”
Bowing under pressure from farmers, the Tories have already expressed opposition to the EU’s strict regulation of GM crops, chemicals and neonicotinoid pesticides – all of which can devastate insect life and the animals that feed on them. At present the European courts and the European Commission enforce these laws. After Brexit there will be nothing to stop deregulation.
The Common Agricultural Policy
No-one denies the CAP needs reforming. Farmers hate it and its complex regulations. But, the CAP provides 60% of farmers’ income. And under the 2013 EU “Greening” initiative, farmers are financially incentivised to use their land sustainably, and care for natural resources.
“Under the new [2013 Greening] rules, farmers receiving payments help conserve the environment and contribute to addressing greenhouse emissions by:
- making soil & ecosystems more resilient by growing a greater variety of crops
- conserving soil carbon & grassland habitats associated with permanent grassland
- protecting water & habitats by establishing ecological focus areas.”
MPs are calling for a new UK Environmental Protection Act as part of Brexit. The Tory manifesto last year promised to make the UK environment greener after Brexit than EU regulations left it. But it’s hard to see that happening. In view of this government’s continual capitulation to pressure from the farming community, most notably by rolling out again this year (the 6th) an horrendous cull of a much-loved and protected species, the badger, in 32 areas across 10 counties, ignoring the science, the data, much expert advice, and public opinion … Well, I can’t even finish the sentence.
“When a government dares to call its concrete-grey Autumn Budget environmentally “green” because of its initiative to plant a few trees alongside its billion pounds worth of road infrastructures, and when that government can barely agree on whether the cruel practice of fox hunting should be allowed, all hope is lost for the safety and welfare of animals.”
Our new trading partners
Failing a decent trade agreement with Brussels, the UK is looking to the USA as a major trading partner. The US his already dictated its terms – no trade unless we eliminate our “unjustified sanitary restrictions”.
Not wanting to jeopardise our chances of a deal with America, a possible future lifeline in the event of a bad Brexit, the Home Office “have failed to write-up any legally binding commitments that uphold food hygiene and humane animal treatment post-Brexit. Horror stories of chlorine washed chicken, ractopamine riddled pigs and hormone enhanced beef hitting British shores may be closer than we think.”
The infographic below reveals some of the barbarity of the treatment of animals on American factory farms
If you’re not already acquainted with US farming methods, let me tell you I doubt you can imagine a worse hell. Check for yourself here.
From the Brexit referendum’s results day, the pound declined in value. If we get as far as actual Brexit Day, March 29th 2019, we will see the pound plummet, sucking into the country a flood of products from unethically, inhumanely-reared animals . (Not that I will ever concede there is such a thing as humane farming of animals. Apart from anything that happens to them in the short time they are allowed to live, those lives all end in the bloody horror of the slaughterhouse. There are though, degrees of suffering.)
UK farmers will be unable to compete without a significant lowering of their own animal welfare standards, the standards at present required of them by the EU.
Farms in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire – PETA
If this is what it’s like now, how much lower can they go?
In addition, in the face of ever-decreasing profit margins farmers will strongly resist legislative attempts to protect the welfare of farmed animals post-Brexit. The animals will be “collateral damage”.
Levels of poverty in the UK are already “staggering” according to UN rapporteur Philip Alston. He found 1.5 million of our citizens destitute and 14 million living in poverty. Food bank use reached its highest rate on record this year. Our own Treasury has predicted that under all possible Brexit scenarios we will be worse off in 15 years time. All of which means that people will be looking for the cheapest possible food, however dodgily produced. Concerns for animal welfare will be a luxury many can no longer afford.
On many farms between 40 – 58% of the workforce are EU nationals. The labour shortage created by their disappearance will push agricultural workers’ wages up, putting further financial pressure on farmers. They will look for any way possible to cut costs, and may well resort to cutting welfare corners to the detriment of the animals.
A staggering 90% of vets working in the UK are EU nationals. The British Veterinary Association warns of a severe shortage of qualified vets post-Brexit. That is not good news for any UK animal.
After Brexit, because of the change in regulations for trading with Europe, more not fewer Official Vets will be needed to supervise imports and exports and sign health certificates for live animals. Doesn’t this acute shortage of properly qualified personnel mean that whatever animal protections there are supposedly in place, are going to pass by unchecked and unenforced?
“Deregulating trade while curbing immigration would lead to a sharp decline in animal welfare. When immigration is curbed and access to dedicated workers is stifled, the situation for the UK’s voiceless and defenceless creatures is bleak.”
Last year Michael Gove claimed that the EU was holding us back from banning live exports.
Would a Tory government fly in the face of its supporters in the farming community to enforce such a ban? Even if they did, which seems highly unlikely, now ‘free’ of EU regulations the UK would be subject to World Trade Organisation rules instead. And they do not allow for such a ban. If you voted for Brexit hoping to see an end to this cruel trade, I’m sorry to disappoint.
Cruelty Free International are worried that “a no-deal Brexit could mean that the UK would need to carry out the same animal tests for chemical registration as the EU. This would mean twice as many animals would suffer. If existing EU animal-test data is not shared with the UK, then the same animal tests would have to be carried out again by the UK for the same information.”
At a time when without Brexit the number of laboratory procedures continues to rise, that just does not bear thinking about. NatureWatch echoes CFI’s concerns and urges the government “to ensure that re-testing does not take place and that existing testing data can be used in the UK.”
The present EU pet passport system is being extensively abused by criminal gangs smuggling puppies with fake passports into the UK and other countries. The government has pledged to stamp out this cruel trade. Perhaps the only good news to come out of Brexit. Although…
In all the years we have been an EU member state, the government could have eliminated this problem anyway with better UK border checks. Plus, it’s hard to imagine this will be a high priority for the Tories in a post-Brexit Britain.
One final reason to reject May’s Brexit on behalf of our animals
Many animal advocacy organisations are either already working on a Europe-wide basis, or are starting to join forces with their european counterparts.
Surely we are stronger together for the animals?
Look at these EU-wide groups: Eurobadger, Eurogroup for Animals, the European Enforcement Network of Animal Welfare Lawyers and Commissioners and the vitally important aforementioned European Parliament’s Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals
All in all, if the animals had a voice and were given a vote, I feel certain the result would be – Remain.
Further reading from the Ecologist