Animal welfare organisations warn of public dismay as animals become victims of Brexit

20 February 2019

Thirty-six animal welfare organisations, including PDSA, are warning that the Government risks public dismay if it waters down animal protections in UK law post-Brexit, following on from a major public outcry in late 2017 over weakening animal sentience law.

New research released today reveals that more than 8 out of 10 people (81%) think that animal welfare laws should be maintained or strengthened post-Brexit, while only 2% feel it might be acceptable to have weaker animal protections.

The warning comes as a new #BetterDealForAnimals campaign is launched, to make sure that animals don’t become victims of Brexit. The campaign is calling for animal sentience to be explicitly enshrined in UK law, as it is in the EU, and for any future legislation or Government policy to fully take into account its impact on the welfare of animals. Without this, the Government’s current planned legislation will weaken protection for animals across the UK.

A major event in Parliament on 26 February will demonstrate strong cross-party support for the demand to fully recognise animal sentience in UK law before we leave the EU. This event is sponsored by Nic Dakin MP (Lab), Zac Goldsmith MP (Con), Tim Farron MP (Lib Dem), and Deidre Brock MP (SNP), and Sue Hayman MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) will be speaking.

The calls to protect animal welfare are strongly supported by the public - new research published today, and conducted by YouGov on behalf of the charities, reveals that:

  • Voters for all the main political parties think that animal welfare laws should be maintained or made more extensive than they are now – 86% of Conservative voters, 84% of Labour voters and 82% of Lib Dem voters
  • 80% of the British public want post-Brexit Government trade deals to have clear requirements that imported animal products meet or exceed British animal welfare production standards. Only 6% say this should not be a requirement.
  • Almost 7 out of 10 (68%) want legal requirements to ensure that animal welfare is protected when new laws and policies are made, to the greatest extent possible. Only 3% oppose this
  • Less than a third (31%) of the public are confident that the UK Government will live up to its promises of being a world leader on animal welfare, 56% say they are not confident
  • Two-thirds (66%) want an advisory body on animal protection established to give expert independent advice to government on safeguarding animal welfare

Vicki Betton, PDSA Veterinary Policy & Campaigns Manager, said: ‘We welcome the Government’s statement that they are ‘committed to the very highest standards of welfare’, and to making the UK ‘a world leader in the care and protection of animals’. The results of our polling are clear – the public want to see animal protection laws maintained or strengthened, yet we are still waiting to see meaningful action from government on the critical issue of animal sentience as the Brexit deadline approaches.  We would encourage everyone to contact their MP to ask them to sign our Early Day Motion to avoid the clock running out on this essential legislative protection being given to animals. This will then pave the way for the government to live up to its promise to deliver further meaningful improvements in animal welfare.’

Following the public backlash about animal sentience law not being included in the Withdrawal Bill in November 2017, the UK Government made firm commitments ‘to make sure Brexit delivers not just for the British people, but for animals too’. These included promises to be ‘a world leader in the care and protection of animals’ and that the Government would ‘strengthen our animal welfare rules.’

Yet, under current UK Government legislation plans, animals would receive less legal protection post-Brexit than they do while we’re part of the EU. This is because Government Departments would not have the same legal requirement to take account of animal sentience and welfare in all new laws, policy and their delivery. The Government says animals are protected by existing laws – particularly the Animal Welfare Act 2006 – but this doesn't cover all animals, such as free living wildlife and other overriding ‘protection’ legislation on farm animals permits poor practices, such as keeping laying hens caged, and farming ducks without full body access to water for bathing.

This is particularly worrying given the huge range of Government policy decisions to be made post-Brexit which could harm animals without strong legal protections, for example:

  • New trade deals could permit imports of lower welfare animal products – such as chicken carcasses washed in chlorine and meat and dairy produced from hormone- treated animals – leading to a race to the bottom in UK farming standards to compete on price;
  • Building of terrestrial and marine developments, and major infrastructure projects, e.g. housing, motorways and offshore renewable developments, may not have to consider the animal welfare impact to the same extent as under EU rules, risking avoidable suffering of wildlife;
  • Government Departments and Agencies responsible for UK International aid, could invest in overseas intensive farming systems banned in the UK due to poor animal welfare standards;
  • Changes to naval sonar harmful to animals, could be more easily permitted - leading, for example, to more whales and dolphins stranded by noise pollution;
  • Wildlife management practices could more easily use inhumane methods, resulting in cruel and painful animal deaths
  • Changes to disturbance of marine animals could be even harder to determine as a wildlife crime - leading, for example, to more dolphins being disturbed by thoughtless boat users.

The animal welfare coalition is calling on Governments in the UK to keep vital legal animal protections in place as we leave the EU. The coalition is urging MPs to show their support for protecting our much-loved animals by attending the Parliamentary event and backing an EDM on the issue. It is also urging members of the public to back the calls of the #BetterDealForAnimals campaign by Tweeting or writing to their MP:

Sign our parliamentary petition

Sign our parliamentary petition for a BetterDealForAnimals post-Brexit

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Get a Better Deal for Animals

If you feel passionately about animal welfare, then consider contacting your MP and asking them to support our Early Day Motion.

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