Is Brexit Good for Animal Welfare?

Sheep

On the 23rd June 2016, UK citizens will be asked to vote in a referendum as to whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union (EU) or not. There are many factors to take into account when deciding which way to vote, but we consider animal welfare to be a very important one. Whilst we remain neutral on the referendum, we would like to present a few facts that concern animal welfare:

Animal Welfare legislation:

The EU has created a considerable amount of animal welfare legislation over the last three decades which has protected animals across Europe and made up around 80% of UK animal welfare law.1 Much of this has been led by Eurogroup for Animals, although the UK has been a driving force, with organisations like the RSPCA and CIWF providing the scientific evidence to base the legislation on. Outside of the EU, the UK may be less able to influence the European Commission and the 27 other EU member countries on animal welfare legislation.

Additionally, outside the EU, the UK would not benefit from EU animal welfare legislation and, according to CIWF, some other EU countries, such as Germany, have taken over from the UK as the main drivers of animal welfare.2

EU legislation achieved for animals includes the following:

  • Sow stalls banned
  • Battery cages for egg production banned
  • Import of cat and dog fur banned
  • Import of seal products from commercial seal hunts banned
  • EU members banned from killing whales
  • Import of whale products banned
  • EU members must sign up to EU zoo and farm animal rules
  • Steel-jawed leg-hold traps banned
  • Testing of cosmetics on animals banned
  • Driftnets banned, protecting countless sea mammals
  • Importation of wild birds into the EU banned
  • Protection given for habitats to conserve wildlife and protect migrating birds

Membership of the EU does not prevent countries from producing their own higher animal welfare standards. EU legislation imposes the minimum standards required for animal welfare and member countries can write higher animal welfare standards into their own legislation. EU member states may also draw up their own animal welfare legislation in areas not covered by the EU, such as the UK’s law on hunting with dogs or fur farming.

Sentient Beings

There is a legal obligation under the EU Treaty to consider animals as sentient beings when drawing up legislation. Before this animals were legally considered as objects.

Live Exports

Some people are claiming that the UK is not able to stop cruel live exports from the UK because of EU free trade rules. CIWF have examined this and have concluded that, if the UK were to exit the EU, they would still be restricted by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.2 However, countries can make their own agreements with other EU member states, which could include the banning of live exports.

Restriction of Low Welfare Imports

Some people are also claiming that the UK is not able to restrict imports of goods that do not meet UK animal welfare standards, due to EU free trade rules. Again, if the UK were to exit the EU, they would still be constrained by WTO rules. Countries are also free to negotiate their own trade agreements with each other.

 

Notes:

  1. http://blogs.rspca.org.uk/insights/2016/04/13/the-eu-referendum-and-animal-welfare/#.VzcvHMv2azk
  2. http://www.ciwf.org.uk/news/2016/03/compassion-explores-the-pros-and-cons-of-brexit 
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