Animal welfare faces ‘clear and present danger’ from post-Brexit trade deals, study warns

India, earmarked for an agreement by October, ‘has many animal rights practices prohibited at home’    (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
India, earmarked for an agreement by October, ‘has many animal rights practices prohibited at home’ (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The UK’s high animal welfare standards face a “clear and present danger” from post-Brexit trade deals without tougher government rules, a study is warning.

Domestic farming will be undercut if the “soft” approach of the Australia and New Zealand negotiations continues in talks with countries with “less qualms” about quality, it argues.

The alarm is raised over a hoped-for agreement with India – which Boris Johnson has promised will be struck in October – because it “has many animal rights practices prohibited at home”.

The government is urged to insist on “core standards” that would guarantee how a product is made – as well as that product’s safety – in the report by the ResPublica thinktank.

“The clear and present danger here is that the high standards the UK sets for itself will be undermined once meat and other animal products start being shipped en masse from abroad,” said its director, Phillip Blond.

“The problem will only become more acute as we engage countries with even less qualms about exporting cheap, unethically-produced products to the UK.”

The study is backed by both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the National Farmers Union (NFU), which both criticised the Australia and New Zealand deals.

David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, said: “We are yet to see any real assurances that production standards – which would place us as global leaders for animal welfare – will not be undermined for the sake of a quick deal.”

And Nick von Westenholz, the NFU’s director of Trade and Business Strategy, said future deals must go “beyond merely warm words”.

“No one wants to see high-welfare and sustainably produced home-grown food undermined by trade deals which fail to meet our own legal requirements on animal welfare and environmental protection,” he said.

The ResPublica report, entitled ‘UK Trade Policy and Animal Welfare’, notes that, although India bans the killing of animals for food without stunning them first, “in practice this rule is often ignored”.

The Independent revealed how meat from cows kept in harsh conditions banned in the UK can be imported from Australia, where cattle are transported for up to 48 hours without rest.

The journey times are more than three times the limit of 14 hours in this country, a figure expected to be cut to 10.5 hours under post-Brexit changes.

Controversy over the agreement – which will punish the farming and food sectors on the government’s own figures – has grown after a promise to give MPs a final say before approval was broken.

But a department for international trade spokesperson said: “When signing trade agreements, our position is clear – we will not compromise on our high animal welfare and food production standards.”

The Australia and New Zealand agreements included “unprecedented animal welfare chapters and the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission has concluded neither agreement undermines the UK’s domestic protections”, it argued.

Mr Johnson has set two trade deadlines for his successor, to strike the India trade deal by Diwali and to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) by the end of the year.

But hopes of an agreement with the USA – once seen as the biggest Brexit prize – have faded because of Joe Biden’s lack of interest and the rows over the Northern Ireland Protocol.