Brexit provides us with many opportunities to help advance animal welfare, including banning live exports for slaughter and fattening, banning foie gras imports and fur imports from fur farms. The UK banned fur farms years ago but we still continue to import fur from fur farms.
It is vital that we do not lower existing standards when we leave the EU in order to secure trade deals with other countries which have lower animal welfare standards than the UK. Its important that we protect our Farmers from lower welfare imports. This will also help UK producers compete on a more level playing field and ensure there will not be a race to the bottom.
British farmers face competition from many countries, some of which have lower animal welfare standards than those applied in the UK. For example, European producers are undercutting British pig farmers who command a premium for higher welfare standards yet British pig farmers now produce only 40% of the pork eaten in the UK. The remaining 60% comes largely from EU member states such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.
Neil Parish, chairman of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, in October 2015 accused the European Commission of “prevaricating” and giving European farmers an “unfair advantage” by allowing them to flout an EU ban on ‘sow stalls’.
The stalls, which keep sows caged so they cannot move during their pregnancy, can cut farmers’ costs but were banned for cruelty reasons in the UK in 1999 and in the rest of the EU from the start of 2013. But more than several years on, six EU countries are still officially non-compliant.
The Telegraph reported that Dr Joyce D’Silva, ambassador for campaign group Compassion in World Farming, said it believed the countries failing to comply were France, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Finland and Slovenia.
British farmers stopped using the cages or sow stalls in 1999 because they were so small the huge animals did not even have enough room to turn around. This system has been recognised as cruel for many years, not least because pigs are highly intelligent creatures and are denied any semblance of a natural existence.
Consumers’ growing interest in how animals are treated on farms and in livestock facilities has created a strong demand for better information. There is increasing concern amongst the public of the rise in factory farms where animals are crammed together, where sow pigs are locked into farrowing crates, where cows never see the sun and chickens are crippled with no room to move in cages
All farm animals processed for our food are individuals with their own individual personalities. None of us would deny that our pet animals have unique personalities, feelings and feel fear and pain. Farm animals in intensive farms are crammed together in sheds and are de-beaked, castrated, tails docked, de- horned and have their teeth clipped, artificially inseminated and their mating is controlled. The animals not only endure these painful procedures but also suffer from fear and stress. The fact that animals can suffer psychologically is acknowledged by European Union law which recognizes farm animals as sentient beings, as having the capacity to suffer.
Intensively reared farm animals are controlled in every aspect and denied their natural behaviour to form bonds with their young and with each other. They have little space to move around and never smell fresh air or feel a blade of grass beneath their feet.
Factory farms continuously breed, rear and slaughter the animals as quickly as possible to satisfy the relentless consumer demand for cheap meat.
In 2013, more than 989.6 million farmed animals were slaughtered for meat in the UK, according to official figures. Of these, 2.6 million were cattle, 10.3 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep, 17.5 million turkeys and nearly 945 million chickens. Massive numbers of animals live their lives on intensive farms and this is of great concern to anyone with an interest in animal welfare.
The truth is that while progress is being made, we could be doing a lot more to eliminate animal cruelty and improve animal welfare.