The government’s aim of achieving world-class animal welfare will evaporate unless it can prevent low-welfare imports from entering the UK, according to a new report.
The UK, as part of the EU, currently enjoys some of the highest standards for farm animal welfare in the world.
But these welfare standards risk being "diluted or sacrificed" after Brexit unless assurances given by government ministers become firm commitments written into UK law.
This is the message of a report published by the Food Research Collaboration at City, University of London. It spells out the gaps in animal welfare standards between the UK and its likely future trading partners.
It specifies the measures that need to be put in place to protect animal welfare – and livestock farmers – as the UK leaves the EU.
Influential voices are already arguing in favour of weakening UK standards to facilitate trade deals, unilaterally removing import tariffs, and ending farm subsidies.
Lawyer and report author Peter Stevenson, said animal welfare will "evaporate" unless it can prevent lower-standards imports from entering the UK market.
He said trade and subsidies will be the "key determinants" of post-Brexit farm animal welfare.
Mr Stevenson also explained that if the UK is flooded with low-standard imports “farmers may, understandably, resist welfare improvements and could even press for existing standards to be lowered. Subsidies must be used to support farmers who wish to attain genuinely high welfare standards.”
US food standards
The US Commerce Secretary has already stated that the UK would have to adopt US food standards to secure a trade deal after Brexit.
This means that food items currently outlawed in the EU, including hormone-treated beef, dairy and pork products from animals raised using growth promoters, and chlorine-washed chicken would have to be accepted into the UK.
The US also uses much higher levels of antibiotics in livestock production than the UK.
In terms of mg of active ingredient of antibiotic per tonne of livestock unit, use in US pigs is about twice as high as in UK pigs, and use in US cattle is about nine to sixteen times as high as in UK cattle.
According to Compassion in World Farming, importing meat from these animals could increase the risk of UK consumers being affected by antibiotic-resistant foodborne diseases.
Professor Tim Lang, Policy Advisor to the Food Research Collaboration added: “The animal welfare movement is one of the best organised lobbies in the UK. They have extracted important assurances from the Government – but so far nothing that is legally binding.”