Cheap imported food could threaten farm animal welfare standards after Brexit, Lords report warns
The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has today published its report 'Brexit: farm animal welfare'. The Committee warns that a potential increase in imports from countries operating lower farm animal welfare standards could put UK producers at a competitive disadvantage after Brexit.
The Committee heard evidence that the greatest threat to farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit would come from UK farmers competing against cheap, imported food from countries that produce to lower standards than the UK. The Government's wish for the UK to become a global leader in free trade is not necessarily compatible with its desire to maintain high animal welfare standards.
The demand for high-welfare products is ultimately driven by whether consumers prioritise purchasing those products, at added cost, rather than buying cheaper, lower-welfare products. The Committee found that consumers are not always aware of the difference between production systems or willing to pay a higher price for premium welfare products. This could exacerbate the challenge to UK farmers' competitiveness arising from a potential increase in cheaper imports produced to lower welfare standards.
The report also examines whether the UK will have access to the staff needed on farms and in abattoirs after Brexit. The report finds that there is an overwhelming reliance on non-UK EU citizens to fill crucial official veterinary positions in the UK, whilst the agricultural sector employs significant numbers of temporary and permanent farm workers. The Committee calls on the Government to ensure that the industry is able to retain or recruit qualified staff to fill these roles post-Brexit.
Lord Teverson, Chairman of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, said:
“The UK has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world and UK producers are rightly proud of those. We see no reason why Brexit should diminish those, as long as the Government is aware of the challenges ahead and acts accordingly.
"We heard evidence of undeniable concern that opening up the UK market to free global trade poses a number of issues. As we said in our last report, Brexit: agriculture, the Government may find it hard to reconcile its free trade ambitions with its commendable desire for preserving high farm animal welfare standards.
“We heard overwhelming support for farm animal welfare standards to be maintained or improved. To help achieve that, we urge the Government to secure the inclusion of high farm animal welfare standards in any free trade agreements it negotiates after Brexit.
“Whilst Brexit provides the UK with the unique opportunity to review and potentially improve farm animal welfare standards, the Government will need to consider the effect of increasing standards on the competitiveness of UK producers as well the future trading relationship with the EU”.