Tag Archives: Environment

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.

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Westminster Hall debates

Tuesday 4th November saw two interesting debates in Westminster Hall. In the morning Neil Parish MP moved a debate on Animal Slaughter (Religious Methods), and in the afternoon Chris Williamson MP moved a debate on Badger Culls (Assessment). I will focus on the animal slaughter side of things in this post.

Animal Slaughter (Religious Methods)

The animal slaughter debate was called following the publication of the APPG for Beef and Lamb’s inquiry into the welfare of animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites. This report identified several areas in need of further research. During the course of the debate a number of matters were discussed, including the role of exporters subject to various conditions on slaughter, the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses, the effect of animal stress on meat quality, the labelling of meat (stunned vs non-stunned) and a call to accurately record all mis-stuns and mis-cuts. A lot of well-trodden ground was once again re-covered during this debate and ultimately it boils down to the question: Does the right to freedom of religious expression outweigh animal welfare considerations?

Government response

During his response, George Eustice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

“Our position is that we would prefer that all animals are stunned before slaughter, but we recognise and respect the needs of religious communities, so we have always maintained this limited exemption, which is to be used only for meat produced for Jewish and Muslim communities. Last year, the Prime Minister made it very clear in a speech that the Government have no intention of abolishing religious slaughter in this country. However, it is equally important to note that none of the derogations that we have in place, which are set out through the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, exempt anyone from the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which requires all abattoirs to avoid causing an animal avoidable pain.”

“It is not that we believe that there is no difference between the two types of slaughter, nor that we believe shechita is a more welfare-friendly method of slaughter, but because we respect the rights of religious communities. That has been the long-standing position of every UK Government, going back some 100 years.”

HOC Hansard, 4th Nov 2014, Column 168WH.

Labelling

The Minister’s round up also included (another) new date for the publication of the European Commission report on labelling – now expected to conclude in December 2014.

Mis-stunning and mis-cutting

He briefly covered the issue of mis-stunning and -cutting. Historically, the Food Standards Agency only reported incidents observed by official veterinarians in the slaughterhouse. Following review, the FSA intends to monitor and record all incidents. He reiterated the point that a mis-stunning event does not always mean the welfare outcome for a particular animal will be dire as a second, back-up stun can be applied within seconds.

CCTV in slaughterhouses

Last, but not least, the subject of CCTV in slaughterhouses is an issue. The Minister clarified that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee is reviewing it as an option. The issue remains as to exactly who would monitor the CCTV footage were it made compulsory in slaughterhouses. Several supermarkets already demand that CCTV is taken in their slaughterhouses as a matter of course – perhaps the success/failure of this intervention could be investigated.

Badger Culls (Assessment)