In leaving the EU, the UK has the opportunity to improve animal welfare but Brexit also presents a wide range of risks to present welfare standards that have been set at the European level. The RSPCA’s views on Brexit are summarised below. You can find more detailed briefings on a range of Brexit-related issues, including CAP replacement, the impact of WTO rules and potential improvements to animal welfare, in our dedicated Brexit briefing hub.

Click here for the RSPCA’s Brexit briefing hub. 

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill
Currently, 80% of the UK’s animal welfare law comes from the EU. This includes 18 specific pieces of law and, crucially, all of the UK’s existing law on farm animal welfare. If animal welfare is not to decline post-Brexit then it is vital that, at the very least, this body of legislation is maintained in its totality. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill nationalises all of these laws in the immediate term. This is a welcome step, but it is equally important that this new domestic legislation is not subsequently ‘unpicked’ and standards reduced as a result. Alongside this, the Government’s proposed Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill aims to ensure that the recognition of animals as sentient beings, currently contained in Article 13 of the Treaty of Lisbon, is also continued in domestic law.

Free Trade Agreements and the Trade Bill
Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) present one of the biggest threats to animal welfare post-Brexit. Unless there is specific language in any new FTA on animal welfare there is a danger that decreasing tariffs will mean that an increased amount of imported animal products will arrive in the UK market, produced to lower welfare standards than domestic produce and possibly cheaper than domestic produce as well. The effects on animal welfare and on UK farmers could be substantial were this to happen. The UK should therefore include language on animal welfare in any FTA to ensure our own higher standards are protected (though products from animals reared to higher standards than those in the UK should be encouraged). There is a successful precedent for this in the EU’s FTAs with Chile in 2002 and South Korea in 2011. The Trade Bill is the immediate legislative vehicle for replicating existing EU-third party FTAs into UK law – which will have a knock on effect on all subsequent FTAs the UK agrees – and the RSPCA would like to see it explicitly commit to including this sort of animal welfare language in all future UK FTAs.

Improving the welfare of farm animals
As farm animals represent the species with the most relevant EU law, they also represent the species who could benefit from the most improvements after Brexit. There are a number of specific improvements that the RSPCA would like to see, including:

  • Replacing the Common Agricultural Policy with a new system of farm support payments that incentivise good animal welfare by rewarding farmers at a number of different levels depending on what measures they are taking to protect and improve the welfare of their livestock, along with other public goods.
  • An end to the live export of farm animals for slaughter and/or further fattening. Brexit presents the UK with an opportunity to introduce its own rules on animal transport to achieve this, providing they are WTO compliant. Whilst the trade continues, we would like to see improvements including species specific rules on journey times and conditions.
  • The introduction of mandatory method of production labelling on all animal products. Method of production labelling identifies the farming system used to produce food and helps consumers make an informed choice about which production methods to support through their purchases. This form of labelling has existed for eggs since 2004 and is generally considered to have contributed to the significant shift away from eggs from caged hens.
  • A prohibition on slaughter without pre-stunning and improvements to the welfare of affected animals whilst the practice continues, such as post-cut stunning, as well as the introduction of method of slaughter labelling to allow consumers to make an informed decision about whether they wish to buy produce from non-stunned animals.
  • The introduction of mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses, something which the Government has committed to do and which is a significant positive step forward.

Improving the welfare of other species
There are also opportunities to improve the welfare of non-farm species. For example, health checks (including for ticks) for dogs travelling between the UK and mainland Europe could be reintroduced, the UK could introduce tougher standards for animals used in research than the EU or bans on certain types of products derived from wild animals, such as fur. Of course, all of these measures would also be subject to WTO rules.