'Animal welfare standards could be hit by Brexit'

Aberdeen Angus beef cows pictured on the Waitrose Leckford Estate in Hampshire

The government's hopes of achieving world-class animal welfare standards will "evaporate" unless they are written into law as Britain leaves the EU, a new report has warned.

Compassion in World Farming said the UK would come under intense pressure to accept lower standards once its food production industry was removed from EU structures which currently guarantee high welfare for animals.

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has already made clear that the UK would have to adopt American standards in order to secure a post-Brexit trade deal, the charity said.

This could mean accepting imports of hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken or meat from animals treated with growth promoters, all currently banned by the EU.

The report, published by the Food Research Collaboration at City, University of London, warned that UK producers are likely to lobby for lighter regulations if they find themselves competing with foreign producers with lower standards.

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Maintaining or improving current welfare levels could require: Legal protection for standards; Subsidies for farmers providing good welfare; Mandatory labelling to inform consumers of production methods; and Promotion of high standards through public procurement.

Author Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser to CIWF, said: "Trade and subsidies will be the key determinants of post-Brexit farm animal welfare.

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"The government's aim of achieving world-class animal welfare will evaporate unless it can prevent low-welfare imports from entering the UK.

"If this happens, 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."

Professor Tim Lang, policy adviser to the Food Research Collaboration, said: "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.

"This report provides the detail of the laws needed to substantiate the promises."

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We have been clear that we will not lower our high food safety and animal welfare standards as a result of any future free trade agreement.

"We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and want to cement our status as a global leader by continuing to raise the bar.

"Our recent record speaks for itself - from plans to increase maximum prison sentences for animal abusers tenfold to five years in prison, to making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses in England."

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