Animal Charity

What Does a post-Brexit world look like for animals? 

22.1.2021

Just before Christmas, and to the surprise of many, the UK and EU reached a landmark deal agreeing on trade relations once we left the European Union.

This Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) covered not only Trade, but also other areas of cooperation like transport, fisheries or law enforcement. 

Previously, the UK had incorporated all 44 EU animal welfare legislative standards into law under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2020. 

But from 1st January onwards, the UK is now free to introduce new rules that will apply to all trade between the EU and the UK (well Great Britain, as Northern Ireland remains part of the EU’s single market and follows their rules). 

The good news

Great Britain can now freely set its own animal welfare standards, such as introduce a ban on live exports of animals and with our new Agriculture Act (replacing the EU Common Agricultural Policy) we can assure farming receive greater subsidies when they adopt higher animal welfare systems. Other discussions to be had are around mandatory labelling of the methods of production of animal products allowing for true transparency and giving the public the public the ability to make informed purchasing choices.  

Ensuring non-tariff trade in all farm primary products and many processed products, means a no deal crisis has been avoided - something that would have been particularly difficult for sheep exports. But with this deal it now means that farm imports can continue from the EU and the UK does not have to rely on non-EU countries for imported products produced to lower standards. 

In the deal, the animal welfare section recognises the link between animal welfare and sustainable food production and could show a path of the UK and EU still working towards a continent of higher animal welfare standards.

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The bad news

But, it's not all sunshine and rainbows and we at FOUR PAWS UK still have some pressing concerns for animal welfare.  

The Government has already launched a consultation on gene editing, something previously banned under EU law – so is this a sign of regression on our high standards already?  

The chapter of the deal that talks about animal welfare could definitely be stronger. There’s not standing working group to encourage collaborative working on this are with the EU, and increased checks and certifications at borders still pose an issue around increasing border waiting times. However, this might strengthen our biosecurity and enforcement measures in this extra time. The increase need for SPS certification means thousands of vets are needed to support movement, but the majority of the vets we use in slaughterhouses for example come from Europe (96%), and the lack of “mutual understanding” of qualifications means we may have a national shortage. 

Our biggest concern of all is that now the UK has left the European Chemicals Agency, and there is a lack of “mutual acceptance” of tests, this will probably result in double testing of chemicals leading to a rise in animal testing in the UK to numbers previously unheard of. This extreme suffering of animals is completely unnecessary as the tests have already been done, but until we get access to this data there is a very real and present danger of mass animal testing and death occurring in the UK. 

FOUR PAWS UK will continue to work hard to hold the Government to account and make sure that they uphold their promise to retain our high animal welfare standards post-Brexit, and with positive legislation on the horizon like a ban on primates as bets, ban on trophy hunting imports, ban on live exports and compulsory cat microchipping, we hope the UK will continue to be a beacon of hope for animals. 

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Emily Wilson

Head of Programmes UK

Emily heads up the Campaigns Team at FOUR PAWS UK, managing our farming, wildlife and companion animal campaigns. She has worked for over a decade in conservation and animal welfare, protecting animals both in the UK and worldwide.