Animal welfare and the European Union

As you may have noticed, there will be a national referendum on Thursday 23 June 2016 to determine whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union. Although the consequences of continued membership or ‘Brexit’ are largely economic and political, the decision is certain to have some consequences for animal welfare legislation. Therefore, I was pleased to find an article discussing the issue, at least as far as farm animals are concerned, on the Compassion in World Farming website (www.ciwf.org.uk/news/2016/03/brexit-and-farm-animals-should-we-stay-or-go).

The article begins by quoting the results of the European Commission’s Eurobarometer on Animal Welfare 2016 study which shows that 94% of the EU population think protecting the welfare of farm animals is important, with 82% believing that farm animals should be better protected than is currently the case. Given the importance of farm animal welfare to EU citizens, the article then goes on to examine the pros and cons of a possible Brexit. Arguments to stay in the EU include the observation that “if we chose to go, our trade with EU member states would be governed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which would stifle any attempts we make to restrict imports that don’t meet UK animal-welfare standards and make the banning of live exports much harder for us”. Countering this is the argument that “if the UK left the EU, it would be free to design and implement its own policies on animal welfare, including – among other things – financial incentives for improved standards on farms.” Farming Minister George Eustice MP is quoted as saying that “if animals had votes, they would vote to leave”, but this is hardly surprising as Eustice is a known Euro-sceptic and a former member of the UK Independence Party (he stood unsuccessfully for UKIP in the 1999 European Parliamentary Elections).

Unwilling to take sides in the debate*, CIWF admit that “there are many conflicting voices when it comes to the potential impact of Brexit on UK farming”, preferring instead to quote Reineke Hameleers, director of Eurogroup For Animals (which commissioned the Eurobarometer survey), who observed that: “Citizens want a Europe that cares for animals. Now we should get on and build it.” So, whichever way the British public votes on 23 June we must all do our bit to ensure that animal welfare is kept high on the political agenda.

Paul Appleby

* In contrast, environmental group Friends of the Earth have come down firmly in favour of continued membership of the EU, believing that “EU membership has greatly benefited the UK’s nature and the environment” whilst admitting that “the (EU) Common Agriculture Policy has proved an environmental disaster” (https://www.foe.co.uk/page/eu-referendum-environment), and the staunchly pro-animal welfare Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has aligned herself with the ‘stay’ campaign.

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