Letter on animal welfare and the EU signed by MPs, including our Patron-Sir Roger Gale MP in the Guardian 21st April 2016
It’s important to consider how animal protection would be affected, were the UK to leave the EU. By working with other nations, international issues such as illegal trafficking of wildlife and destruction of habitats can be addressed far more effectively. The EU is at the forefront of fighting cosmetics cruelty, having banned cosmetics testing on animals as well as the sale of animal-tested cosmetic ingredients – shaping industry and regulatory practice worldwide. The EU has raised welfare standards for farm animals, for example, banning the confinement of breeding sows in narrow stalls.
Individual governments can come under significant pressure from corporate lobbyists to weaken or remove binding standards on animal protection. In this context, EU-wide minimum standards to tackle animal cruelty are more important than ever.
Animal advocates know that EU rules on animal protection don’t go nearly far enough, but to improve the standards, we need to remain part of the EU and strive to make them stronger. On some critical animal protection issues, such as banning of testing for cosmetics on animals, the UK has actually shown leadership in the EU; we have played a full part in shaping EU-wide standards, and should continue to do so. We believe that animals need the EU, and we encourage everyone who cares about animals to vote Remain.
Caroline Lucas MP
Green, Brighton Pavilion
Kerry McCarthy MP
Labour, Bristol East, Shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs
Sir Roger Gale MP
Conservative, Thanet North, Patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation
Tom Brake MP
Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington, Foreign affairs spokesman and chief whip
Hywel Williams MP
Plaid Cymru, Arfon, Westminster leader
Alyn Smith MEP
Scottish National party
Keith Taylor MEP
Green party animal spokesperson, South-East England
Glenis Willmott MEP
Leader of Labour MEPs, East of England
Catherine Bearder MEP
Liberal Democrat, South East England
Jill Evans MEP
Plaid Cymru, Wales
Mary Creagh MP
Labour, Wakefield, Chair of the environmental audit committee
Mike Gapes MP
Labour and Co-operative, Ilford South
Paul Flynn MP
Labour, Newport West
Neil Parish MP
Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton
Liberal Democrats, Deputy leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for environment and rural affairs
Greg Mulholland MP
Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West
Jim Dowd MP
Labour, Lewisham West and Penge
Cat Smith MP
Labour, Lancaster and Fleetwood
Jeff Smith MP
Labour, Manchester, Withington
Nick Thomas-Symonds MP
Daniel Zeichner MP
Liz Saville-Roberts MP
Plaid Cymru, Dwyfor Meirionnydd
Thangham Debbonaire MP
Labour, Bristol West
Molly Scott Cato MEP
Green, South-West England
Jean Lambert MEP
Anneliese Dodds MEP
Labour, South-East England
Richard Howitt MEP
Labour, East of England
Seb Dance MEP
Derek Vaughan MEP
Mary Honeyball MEP
Afzal Khan MEP
Labour, North-West England
Jude Kirton-Darling MEP
Labour, North-East England
Paul Brannen MEP
Labour, North-East England
Neena Gill MEP
Labour, West Midlands
Julie Ward MEP
Labour, North-West England
Caroline Dinenage MP
by Sam Barker in the Guardian, April 2016
EU laws currently protect British animals from cruel farming practices. With these removed their lives would be incalculably worse
‘We have Europe to thank for Britain getting welfare laws for farmed pigs and chickens, such as banning barren cages for battery hens in 2012.’
With so many loud voices clamouring to be heard in the Brexit debate, there is a risk we will fail to consider those that cannot speak at all – animals. But voting to leave the European Union could have a profound effect on their welfare. Britain has a reputation as a nation of animal lovers, but over the past decade our lawmakers have lagged behind Europe’s in protecting them from harm.
Things were not always this way. Britain was the first country to pass any form of protective legislation for farm animals, in 1822. The law banned people from “wantonly and cruelly” beating livestock. Presumably other sorts of beatings were A-OK as far as the MPs of the time were concerned, but it was still a world first.
Britain passed many animal welfare laws in the following two centuries. But we have become increasingly reliant on Brussels for strong regulations to protect farmed animals. We have Europe to thank for Britain getting welfare laws for farmed pigs and chickens, such as banning barren cages for battery hens in 2012 and sow stalls – which kept pigs unable to move for most of their lives – in 2013.
Both were identified as the worst excesses of factory farming as far back as 1975, when Peter Singer published Animal Liberation, but it took Europe to finally get its member states to take action. Europe has also passed dozens more requirements to reduce animal suffering while they are being farmed, transported and slaughtered: too many to list here.
Many say these laws do not go far enough, and that modern intensive farming techniques are still cruel. Regardless, these techniques are much less cruel because of European regulation, and each new law is a step in the right direction. If Britain leaves the EU, then current animal rights rules will not vanish overnight. But their future would not be certain long term, and from an animal rights perspective an independent Britain is worrying for two reasons.
First, Brexit would mean that the UK would not be subject to future directives on farmed animal rights. Second, an independent Britain will not need to keep to previous EU rules that protect farmed animals. Sadly we can discount the possibility that an independent Britain under the current government would choose to increase animal protections. Cameron’s administration has shown no desire to go beyond any minimum EU position on animal rights and is instead actively pursuing a deregulatory agenda. Just last month it emerged that Conservative ministers wanted to scrap many guidelines on animal welfare, beginning with letting the poultry industry self-regulate in some areas.
The plans were shelved after a public outcry, but their proposal alone shows the current Conservative disregard for farmed creatures.
Their preference for deregulation over animal welfare is also demonstrated by plans to review the foxhunting ban, despite most of the population backing it. Beyond their preference for deregulation, the Tories are the party of business, and complying with animal rights laws costs money. If post-Brexit business lobbyists call for the relaxation of rules that protect farm animals, the Tories may well listen.
Another factor in this debate is what happens to the annual £2.4bn EU subsidiesto British farmers in the event of Brexit, around 53% of their incomes, and what that means for farmed animals. If Britain leaves, that subsidy goes, as does farmers’ easy access to the single market. Farming minister George Eustice said in February that the government would pay a subsidy in the case of Brexit. It is unclear how he can promise this, especially as his boss, the prime minister, is still sticking to the line that he has no contingency plans for leaving the EU.
If farmers did end up getting fewer subsidies post-Brexit, the implications for animal rights are poor. Animal farmers are not monsters, and many farms just want to do the right thing – I was raised on one. But as the author Upton Sinclair once said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Factory farming is the most cost-effective way of turning animals into cash, and the industry has shown it can turn to extremely cruel animal farming practices in the pursuit of Rizla-thin profits. The stranglehold of the big supermarkets means farmers struggle to raise prices, so fewer subsidies could tempt them to bend the existing rules or call for their overhaul.
We have made impressive advances on animal rights in the UK over the years. But from an animal welfare perspective we really need continued European Unioninput. Animal rights are too important to be left to our current government, and if Brexit happens then the chances are that rights for farm animals will either stagnate or be whittled away. We must speak up on animals’ behalf and stop either of these from happening.