Amendment to EU Withdrawal Bill seeks to embed animal sentience in UK law

Lord Trees, alongside Peers from other parties, have proposed an Amendment to the so-called ‘Brexit Bill’ to ensure that existing high animal welfare standards in the UK will be maintained. He has written a short explanatory note to accompany it:

Amendment 40: EU Protocol on animal sentience (Article 13 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the EU)

This Amendment attempts to ensure that existing high animal welfare standards in the UK will be maintained after Brexit. This is a matter of very considerable concern to the public, the media and animal welfare and veterinary organisations. The Amendment would bring into UK law the principle enshrined in the EU Protocol on Animal Sentience contained in Article 13 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). This places an obligation on government to pay regard to the welfare of animals (as sentient beings) in the formulation and implementation of public policy. As such, it complements our existing Animal Welfare Act 2006 which places an obligation on the individual keeper of an animal(s) for the welfare of the animal(s) under their care. Since Article 13 is part of a Treaty it has not been embraced automatically in the EU Withdrawal Bill, so that without special measures, such as this Amendment, UK legislation when we leave the EU will NOT be equivalent to that of the remaining EU 27 countries.

Although the Government defeated an Amendment by Caroline Lucas to the EU Withdrawal Bill relating to Article 13 in the House of Commons it faced such a backlash of public and media criticism that it brought out a very brief draft Animal Welfare Bill 2018, part of which seeks to embed the principle of Article 13 into UK law. This Bill was the subject of an inquiry by EFRAcom published at the end of January. Whilst this welcomed the spirit of the Bill it was critical of its brevity and vagueness, and liability to invite unintended consequences. So we have a situation where the Government as well as opposition parties broadly agree about the destination of travel i.e. to embrace in some way the spirit of Article 13, but the means of travel are as yet uncertain.

We have drafted Amendment 40 with care to address the shortcomings of earlier amendments and the draft Animal Welfare Bill 2018, and are very grateful for the advice of Dr Mike Radford, University of Aberdeen, an expert on animal welfare legislation. In particular we have sought to minimise the risk of malicious judicial review, so the Amendment charges Parliament with the exclusive responsibility of holding Ministers to account.

Given the time pressures and the tsunami of legislation which in the coming months will be competing for a finite amount of parliamentary time, adoption of this Amendment – or variations to it – will immediately ensure our legislation with regard to animal welfare is exactly the same after Brexit as it is now. It would provide important support in our negotiations to achieve trade agreements in livestock and livestock products with the EU 27 and the rest of the world, and reassurance to the public that animal welfare will not be compromised by Brexit.

This Amendment is due to debated on Wednesday 25th April around 4-6pm (although times may vary), watch live at parliament.tv/Lords.

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Non-stun slaughter – Why not a precautionary tale?

The number of sheep and goats slaughtered without stunning has doubled in the last six years, with an estimated 3.3 million (27%) not stunned in 2017. A Food Standards Agency survey for England and Wales estimates that 184 million poultry and 21 thousand cattle were also slaughtered without an effective stun in 2017 (see VPRF Non-stun slaughter Fact File)

EU and UK law require all livestock at abattoirs to be stunned and therefore rendered unconscious and insensible to pain before slaughter. The EU uses a ‘Precautionary Principle’ for policy areas where scientific evidence may be uncertain, but there is reasonable concern for harm to environmental, human or animal health. Despite a body of scientific evidence of harm, the use of non-stun slaughter by some religious groups is allowed in the UK but non-stun slaughter is banned in several countries around the world.

The UK legislation (Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing, WATOK) requires that for non-stun slaughter, each animal has a rapid, uninterrupted cut to the neck by hand-held knife to sever both carotid arteries and jugular veins. The animal must be restrained suitably and be left still during exsanguination for a minimum defined time post-cut. The majority of red meat (63% sheep, 75% cattle) slaughtered for halal is reversibly stunned but the remainder is not. This meat, along with 70% of meat from non-stunned kosher carcasses, enters the market unlabelled.

chicken behind fence NSS slaughter fact file

Several studies have measured time to loss of consciousness (and therefore sensibility to pain and distress) through a variety of methods including loss of posture. Following non-stun slaughter and across several studies, poultry reportedly took 12-15 seconds following throat cut before signs of unconsciousness were apparent. In sheep this was between 2-14 seconds and in cattle between 11seconds in some cases over 4minutes (cattle time to collapse may be longer due to a unique alternative blood supply to the brain).

Recently there has been much public support to recognise that animals are sentient, and therefore able to suffer pain and distress. ‘We are a nation of animal lovers’ the papers declare and Ministers repeatedly emphasise our proud record of high animal welfare. With programmes such as Blue Planet capturing the imagination of the world (apparently the most viewed TV programme of 2017), and conversations around the sustainability and morality of our diets being brought into the mainstream by films such as Cowspiracy, Okja and Carnage; why is the UK struggling to agree when it comes to stunning animals before slaughter?

Lord Trees – the only Veterinarian in parliament – will ask in the House of Lords ‘what is to be done to minimise the number of animals slaughtered without stunning?’ on Wednesday 7th February 15h00

A question of Animal Sentience?

This issue has been a subject of interest for us, other Parliamentarians and particularly the British Veterinary Association (BVA) for some time but rejection of the Amendment (New Clause 30) to the Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons on 15th November has heightened interest. At the Veterinary Policy Research Foundation we have compiled an Animal Sentience Briefing which summarises this fast moving situation.

The Withdrawal Bill seeks to transpose EU regulations into UK law but Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty  will not automatically become UK law as it is not an EU regulation.  Article 13 has been regarded as important by animal welfare organisations[1] as it puts an onus on EU member states, in formulating policies, to pay full regard to animal welfare requirements since animals are sentient beings. The amendment (New Clause 30) moved by Caroline Lucas MP, proposed that the principle with respect to animal sentience expressed in Article 13 should be included in the Withdrawal Bill. The amendment was rejected with a Government majority of 18.

Although much media coverage focused on this as a disagreement about whether animals were sentient or not, it has since been clarified by the Secretary of State for Defra[2], Michael Gove, that the amendment was voted down as a ‘poorly drafted and inappropriate way’ of delivering the aims of Article 13. Moreover, it is legally arguable that the Animal Welfare Act already implicitly recognises that animals are sentient.

The existing legislation within the Animal Welfare Act places the onus of responsibility for the care of animals on the keepers of those animals. Article 13 imposes duties on the state. This is the real and critical aspect of this debate.

Before and after the 15th November vote (see below) Government ministers have given assurances that they are exploring how the sentience of animals can be best enshrined in UK law.

You may rest assured that the VPRF and a number of MPs particularly associated with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare (APGAW) and outwith Parliament, the BVA are actively working to hold the government to that commitment.

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You will see that in a debate in the House of Lords on Brexit: Agriculture and Brexit: Farm Animal Welfare on 17th October 2017 I asked within my speech a specific question with regard to sentience:

“…with regard to the withdrawal Bill and animal welfare, while the Secretary of State has given some assurances about the important legal principles set out in the EU treaties, can the Minister explain, in writing if necessary, which of the principles of animal sentience and environmental laws will be recognised as general principles under the terms of the withdrawal Bill? Importantly, can he confirm whether they will apply to future government decision-making and judgments in court?” Lord Trees full spoken contribution can be found at: https://goo.gl/fhg4Fd

 

Ministerial response (Lord Gardiner) to Lord Trees question, by letter to Lord Teverson 3/11/17:

“Lord Trees asked which of the principles of animal sentience and environmental laws will be recognised as general principles under the terms of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and whether they would apply to future government decision-making and judgements in court. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of direct EU animal welfare and environmental laws to become UK laws. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.

The Withdrawal Bill will preserve environmental principles where they are included in existing EU legislation and case law. We recognise the importance of these issues and will listen carefully to the views of Parliament as the Bill progresses. Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) created a qualified obligation on the EU and EU Member States “to have full regard [to] the welfare of animals as they are sentient being” when formulating and implementing certain EU laws. Existing domestic law such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the various Welfare Codes made under it already protect animals where there is clear scientific evidence that they are capable of experiencing pain and suffering. Its scope is capable of being extended where the science justifies.

We are exploring how the ‘animal sentience’ principle of Article 13 can continue to be reflected in the UK when we leave the EU.”

 

In Parliament on 23rd November 2017, the Secretary of State Michael Gove delivered a Written Ministerial Statement in the Commons which you will find referred to in the briefing document and below [2].

 

Acknowledgement: we are very grateful to Dr. Michael Radford, University of Aberdeen for his expert legal interpretation of this issue.

[1] Compassion in World Farming

https://assets.ciwf.org/media/7431218/note-on-the-absence-of-article-13-tfeu-from-repeal-bill-002.pdf

[2] Written Ministerial Statement, Defra, 23.11.17

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/environment-secretary-confirms-sentience-of-animals-will-continue-to-be-recognised-and-protections-strengthened-when-we-leave-the-eu

 

Making Brexit work for animal welfare

Lord Trees spoke on 17 October in the House of Lords in a debate on the EU subcommittee reports on Brexit: agriculture and Brexit: farm animal welfare with Defra Minister Lord Gardiner.

AJT Brexit animal welfare debate

He took the opportunity to ask the Minister for further clarity on the rights of non-UK EU vets to continue to work in the UK post Brexit, he emphasised the role of vets in underpinning trade, sought assurances that animal welfare standards would not slip as a consequence of setting up new trading relationships and also spoke on the need to transpose medicines regulations into UK law to ensure that current and future medicines required for animal health are available. More generally he also asked the Minister if the Government have considered how financial inducements might be used to help to maintain animal welfare standards (e.g. during reform of farming subsidy payments) and to ensure that the EU Withdrawal Bill includes General Principles of EU law such as the Lisbon Treaty (Article 13) which requires the sentience of animals to be recognised in making and interpreting current and future laws.

Defra Minister, Lord Gardiner’s reply stated:

Lord Gardiner

“In government we absolutely recognise the key role played by vets in ensuring high animal welfare and health standards. Indeed, the Prime Minister specifically made it clear that securing the status of the veterinary workforce is a top priority. It has been my privilege to meet many EU nationals who serve in our veterinary profession and I can say how important they are to us.”

He mentioned welfare standards several times, re-iterating the Government’s position that the UK’s current standards of animal welfare will be maintained post Brexit. He also stated that the Government plans “to replicate broadly the EU’s current schedule of WTO commitments” in its future trade agreements allowing tariffs to be maintained at current level but acknowledging that decreases in tariffs can adversely impact farmers, consumers and the food industry.

In response to concerns about the negative impact of cuts in Defra funding and reduction in the Defra workforce he stated that Defra have recruited 450 additional staff, comprising policy generalists and specialists to support their comprehensive exit programme. More than 350 have already taken up posts, with the remainder currently progressing through the pre-appointment processes.

He confirmed The Secretary of State (Michael Gove’s) recent announcement that the Government intends to publish draft legislation for consultation “around the turn of the year” to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years in prison.

He also referred to the Government’s manifesto commitment to “take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter” as we leave the EU as well as to require CCTV in every slaughterhouse in England.

A full transcript of the debate is available here.

UK Government publishes Brexit Policy on Science and Innovation

Today the UK Government published a policy paper which outlines the UK’s objectives for a science and innovation agreement with the EU post Brexit. The full document is available here. Some key points particularly relevant for veterinarians are summarised below:

Movement of people

The UK Government has stated that whilst freedom of movement will cease to apply in the UK after we leave the EU, the UK will continue to welcome “the brightest and the best” and, as such, migration between the UK and the EU will continue.

The UK is seeking to agree a continued system for mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

European Medicines Agency (EMA)

UK Government is fully committed to continuing the close working relationship with the EMA to ensure that patients in the UK and across the EU continue to be able to access the best and most innovative medicines and be assured that their safety is protected by the strongest regulatory framework and sharing of data.

The EU has specific agreements in place with USA, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, New Zeeland and Israel covering inspections, safety of medicines and exchange of information. These provide precedents which the UK and EU could seek to build on.

Horizon 2020

This is the largest EU Research and Innovation Framework Programme to date with nearly 80 billion euros of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020).

The UK is a highly active participant in Horizon 2020 ranking first across the EU in the number of participants with signed contracts (7,360 so far).

UK Government has promised to underwrite bids for Horizon 2020 projects submitted while the UK is still a member of the EU.

Precedents exist for non-EU participation in EU science and innovation programmes. For example, there are currently 16 non-EU countries formally associated with Horizon 2020.

After the UK leaves the EU, terms of association (including financial contributions) will be determined by international agreements with the EU.

The UK Government would also like to explore forging a more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country.

Non-EU collaboration

Some of the UK’s most important collaborators lies outside the EU, notably the USA (as the UK’s top research partner), Australia, China, Canada and Japan.

The UK is a member several international European organisation which are not part of the EU. These include the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and EUREKA (an intergovernmental network helping small and medium sized enterprises to collaborate on R&D across borders to bring innovative ideas to market).

Lord Trees presses Home Office Minister over veterinary workforce shortage

On  17 July the House of Lords debated the EU Committee report on Brexit: UK-EU movement of people. Lord Trees took this opportunity to speak on the workforce issues affecting the veterinary profession.

He outlined key statistics concerning veterinary workforce shortages and asked the Home Office Minister Baroness Williams:

  1. Can the Minister assure the House that non-UK EU nationals currently working in vital sectors such as veterinary science will be given the same rights in the future which mirror those that would have applied were we to remain in the EU?
  2. What is the Government doing to inform EU nationals in their own countries that they are welcome and under what conditions?
  3. Will the Home Office restore vets to the Shortage Occupation List – from which they were removed in 2011?

In her reply the Minister stated:

“The noble Lord, Lord Trees, talked about the shortage of vets following the UK exit. We have made it clear that both the best and brightest will continue to be welcome to come to the UK, and future policy will be based on the future consideration of the evidence. I am sure the veterinary profession will want to contribute to that evidence picture. The noble Lord gave a number of significant statistics, and they will certainly form part of the consideration. The noble Lord also suggested that vets should be on the shortage occupation list. ​That list is produced by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, and the Government do not act independently of the MAC in this regard.”

and

“The noble Lord, Lord Trees, asked what steps the Government were taking to make it clear to EU nationals that they are welcome in the UK. We have made it clear that so long as the UK remains a part of the EU, EU citizens have full rights to come here and remain welcome. We have made this point clearly and repeatedly.”

The full transcript of his speech is available here: http://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2017-07-17/debates/C046AC3A-0357-41FF-A40E-7210AD6BC5BD/BrexitUK-EUMovementOfPeople(EUCReport)#contribution-26D32A73-7F82-455C-A287-1C8DCDC73C34

The debate was paused for a statement on Schools and continues here (Minister’s reply is at the end):

http://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2017-07-17/debates/57244431-1ABB-4DC4-92C4-5D8AF856B6FE/BrexitUK-EUMovementOfPeople(EUCReport)

Lord Trees’ contribution was warmly received by the House including by:

 

Lord Cormack “We have just heard in the splendid speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, how a very small but vital sector of our economy could indeed be damaged in a most dangerous way if we do not behave with suitable sensitivity.”

Lord Stunell “I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Trees, had to say about vets—for recruiting, retraining, mentoring and developing a UK workforce.”

Lord Kennedy “The noble Lord, Lord Trees, highlighted the problems regarding the challenges Brexit poses to the veterinary profession, and to other science and healthcare professions. He made the point well in respect of Brexit further exposing the risk and the crisis that is looming large.”

Peers interview Defra Officials on the impact of Brexit on Animal Health and Welfare

In March 2017 the House of Lords EU Select Subcommittee on Energy and Environment interviewed Nigel Gibbens (UK Chief Veterinary Officer, Defra) and Pamela Thompson (Head of EU Exit Team for Animal & Plant Health, Defra) as part of their inquiry into the impacts of Brexit on Agriculture in the UK.

Under the Chairmanship of Lord Teverson (a Liberal Democrat Peer and former Member of the European Parliament) the committee, including Lord Trees, led a substantial and constructive discussion on the impacts of Brexit on Animal Health and Welfare.

The discussion included:

  1. Workforce issues including the degree to which our veterinary and agricultural sectors rely on the work of non-UK EU nationals
  2.  The extent to which animal health and animal welfare is regulated through EU law
  3. Particular challenges associated with the Great Repeal Bill for animal health and welfare regulations
  4. Future arrangements for surveillance, prevention and control of animal diseases in the UK
  5. The extent to which a new trading regime with the EU and third countries will impact on animal health and welfare

A video of the session is available here 

Follow this link for details about the full Brexit: agriculture inquiry including transcripts of oral evidence sessions.