The UK’s high animal welfare standards could come under pressure as the country seeks to new deals in the wake of Brexit, according to a report.
The report, from the House of Lords European Union committee, warned standards for food in the UK could be threatened by demands from other countries to allow imports of cheap food produced with lower animal welfare standards.
“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,” said the report.
Among the controversial products that could be sold in UK supermarkets as part of a trade deal are chicken meat from the US, which is washed in chlorine because of lower animal hygiene standards on farms, and hormone-fed beef.
The report says that currently livestock welfare and crop-growing standards in the UK are among the world’s highest.
But trading partners may insist on gaining access to the UK market with produce grown with lower standards as part of a new trade deal.
The report called for firm and explicit support for agricultural standards in any post-Brexit trade agreements, even though this might make agreements more difficult to achieve.
The report also queried whether DEFRA would have enough resources to continue to enforce UK agricultural standards.
And as much of the current animal welfare research is funded by the EU, the report called on the government to state how it would continue to fund such research without EU financial support.
Unless UK consumers change and become willing to pay higher prices for food post-Brexit, UK farmers may become uncompetitive.
“There is some doubt over whether animal welfare can be used as a rationale to restrict imports from other countries under WTO rules,” the report said.
The report also noted the overwhelming reliance on non-UK EU citizens to fill crucial official veterinary positions in the UK and called on the government to ensure the industry is able to retain or recruit qualified staff to fill these roles post-Brexit.
Committee member Lord Krebs told the BBC's Today programme: “The government has got to come up with a way of resolving this riddle. It can’t have it both ways.
“It is important to distinguish between food safety and animal welfare. Nobody is saying that American chicken or American beef is unsafe. This is about welfare standards.”
He said that while the EU has banned American hormone-treated beef, the WTO has concluded this was not justified on food safety grounds.
And while in the UK beef cattle are frequently seen gazing in pastures American cattle tend to be raised on intensive feedlots and fed hormones to increase growth, he added.
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