BREXIT AND ANIMAL WELFARE
SPEECH TO THE 2018 AIA AGM
BY CHRIS FEGAN
This talk is not the most straightforward to give at this time because nobody knows with any degree of certainty what will be the outcome of BREXIT and indeed the Prime Minister is in Brussels again today trying to agree the final wording of a deal between the UK and the EU ahead of a hoped for summit tomorrow.
However, despIte the continued uncertainty, the animal advocacy world has been very busy over the last 2 years or so following the 2016 Referendum in preparing for March 2019 when the UK is due to leave the EU. I have been pleased to work with colleagues in this area and in particular to work within the Eurogroup for Animals BREXIT Task Force which has met on several occasions and which has produced various documents aimed at policy makers, officials and also, indeed, other animal advocacy colleagues, as well as the general public, and I think this work have been very helpful in considering the animal welfare issues in the BREXIT situation.
This Task Force has been very successfully chaired and its work co-ordinated by David Bowles of the RSPCA and also incredibly well supported by various Eurogroup officers, primarily Joe Moran and Stephanie Ghislain, as well as other members of the Eurogroup team based in Brussels. I would like to thank all of these for their support and help over this past difficult 2 year period in the work we have done in trying to get to grips with this vastly important set of issues and in particular Joe Moran and Doug Waley who have spent specific time and energy helping me prepare this talk for you today. I will try to give an overview on where I think we currently are, as well as also looking at one particular area of policy as a case study and that will be the Common Fisheries Policy.
It is difficult to think of many other areas that are as deeply affected by Brexit than animal welfare. Agriculture spending has accounted for more than 40% of the European Union’s budget for as long as Britain has been a member state, and 55% of British farmers’ income currently comes from direct payments. Last year alone the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to the UK totalled about £3 billion, making up 55% of farmers’ incomes. The food security that the CAP has provided in turn gave European policy makers and citizens alike ‘food sovereignty’ and indeed security. As an aside here,we are now hearing of potential stockpiling of food and other goods in the UK in preparation for BREXIT day which is unheard of in the lives of most current UK citizens.
Returning to the current situation, the EU’s self-sufficiency in veal and pork stands at just over 100%. Is it any wonder then that the bloc has been able to ban veal crates or sow stalls? The Union’s ability to raise the bar has not been compromised by the necessity to open up its markets to territories where standards are lower, less healthy, palatable or even safe. Likewise, the EU has led the way globally in banning the testing of cosmetics on animals and has committed to phasing out the use of animal testing for medicines altogether. It was the sheer weight of the bloc that allowed it to defend its ban on the placing onto the market of seal products at the World Trade Organisation.
In short, EU membership has been unequivocally beneficial overall for animal welfare within the UK. This is a key message when we hear stories regarding questions of what has the EU ever done for the UK, etc.
Yet now that the UK is leaving, or at the very least planning to leave, we are in uncharted waters. Undoubtedly, the UK will now be, in theory, free to go above and beyond the existing standards it has inherited from its EU membership, and to remedy those aspects of EU policy that haven’t been quite so helpful. A ban on the live export of animals comes to mind and has been mentioned in various circles including up to Government level. We should be aware of and welcome Government’s comments about putting in place a new farming support system for England that won’t simply reward farmers for owning land and meeting minimum standards. The Environment Secretary and his Department deserve some credit for recognising that animal welfare is something valued by citizens, although opinon poll after opinion poll for may years makes this very clear to anyone who has been prepared to listen, and again as as aside, the numbers of the UK public supporting animal welfare is huge and is in stark contrast to the closeness of the BREXIT vote.
It is right that farming support constitutes a public good, and that public money only goes to rewarding public goods that go above and beyond basic legal requirements relating to the protection of soil, habitats, and yes, animal welfare.
However, it is clear that whether or not Animal Welfare flourishes in the UK post Brexit now depends on the form of Brexit we get. Fundamentally this comes down to regulation.
The choice is simple. Britain accounts for 3.4% of the world economy. The rest of the EU accounts for just under 25%. The United States represents just over 31%. China accounts for 17%, and rising. These three big economies set the agenda globally. They are regulatory superpowers. If you sell into their markets, you have to accept their regulatory standards.
Historically the situation was different but we live in 2018 and heading into 2019, and not 1918 turning into 1919 which we have been remembering and commemorating recently as the end of the 1st World War Period. In 1960 Britain accounted for 6.4%. At the turn of the last century, it was around 10%. But given Britain’s weight at the epicentre of an empire that spanned 25% of the globe, such rules were set in this country. Indeed, the Empire as a whole in 1900 accounted for 21% of global output.
However, today, this simply isn’t the case here and now ,and despite what we hear from some quarters it cannot be the case in 2019 and onwards.
In short, we have to face a choice, a choice between the differing regulatory models we want to most closely align ourselves too – and yes, this is crucial for animal welfare. To apprporiate Hamlet’s famous soliloquy about suicide at this point “therein lies the rub”.
These standards are not similar, they are all very different indeed. US agriculture has animal welfare and food standards that are far lower than we have at present. It is these lower standards that leads their chickens to be washed in chlorine before appearing on supermarket shelves, so as to ensure they don’t carry nasty diseases. Likewise, cattle in the USA are fed growth promoting hormones as normal, live on feedlots with little or no access to grass, and suffer as a consequence. Just as an aside, the average cow should receive no more than 25% in terms of grain for feed, and should have at least a 75% grass based diet. Their bodies are made for this. Otherwise they suffer from something called ruminal acidosis. This causes the cattle prolonged pain and bloating. In fact, some gases cause them to bloat so much that they have to be, quite literally, ‘popped’, where their excess gasses trapped in their stomachs are released through puncturing their abdomen. Not nice at all. Well, in the USA, the average cow receives the direct inverse: over 75% of their food is grain based in feedlots.
In China, not only is animal testing encouraged, but it is required. Not only for their domestic market, but also for those with whom they trade. That’s right – it’s a standard requirement of theirs that animal testing is routine for products, ranging from chemicals through to household cosmetics and cleaning products are tested on animals if another territory around the world signs a trade agreement with them.
So, yes in a post EU Brexit we might, and I emphasize the word might, be free to do as we wish. But as soon as we choose to trade, and on what terms, animal welfare will be affected and in my view affected badly.
And how does this relate to negotiations now which the Prime Minister is frantically trying to conclude as we sit here today?
Quite simply, I think that if the government manages to strike a withdrawal agreement with the EU, providing for an orderly transition, we are far more likely to end up in their regulatory orbit in the medium and longer term too. If, however, we end up with no deal at all, we are more at risk of being pulled into the orbit of one of these other great economic giants, and our standards will no doubt suffer as a consequence.
Where are we then, with the negotiations? Things are currently on a knife edge. Both sides want an agreement, clearly. It is not in the EU’s own interest to see the UK withdraw in a disorderly manner. However, it would be even more detrimental to the bloc should they give a third country, even one that has been on the inside of their tent for nearly 50 years, such privileged access that it would threaten the integrity of their Union.
No-one can expect the same benefits of any club they’ve left, as those they received when they were members, and part of the problem over the past 2 years or so is that the benefits of being an EU Member has been hardly been put or, if so, not put strongly enough to resonate and “cut through”.
I will now turn to have a look at the Common Fisheries Policy and this has become a major “last minute” area of controversy in the negotiations and the PM’s hoped for deal. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) today is a broad set of rules and regulations. It makes no direct attempts to address the welfare of fish, but is important in many ways. Within European waters, it has established a framework for fishing at sustainable levels. On an annual basis, scientific bodies are charged with assessing the different populations of fish and advising what can be caught while maintaining the size of the population for next year. The Commission takes this advice and packages it up in the form of regulatory proposals. The Member States, sitting together as the Council of the European Union, takes those proposals and adds in a lot of political and economic interests on the way to setting the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for each controlled fish population. The Council then allocates quotas to each Member State. The CFP aims to have all fishing happening at sustainable levels by 2020, and while there has been progress that target will be missed by a long way.
In 2018, 49 of 67 TACS were set within the limits of the scientific advice and only last week, the Council set unsustainable TACs including allowing the fishing of critically endangered species.
There is a raft of other measures in support of this sustainability goal that also have important welfare implications. The ‘Landing Obligation’ means that if you catch it you bring it to shore and count it against quotas, no more discarding of small or less economically desirable fish. That’s another flagship target for 2020 that will be missed in several areas. A critical area is the ‘Technical Measures’ regulations; a constantly evolving package of rules on what type of nets and fishing practices can be used in different waters.
What do you need to do to protect dolphins and seals?
What gear is obligatory to enable small or non-target fish species to escape?
How long can a fish be left hooked and struggling in the water?
That’s all covered in the technical measures.
These rules don’t only apply in European waters, but they apply to European vessels and even individuals fishing in any waters around the globe including within the waters covered by the ten currently active EU sustainable fisheries partnership agreements that grant access for EU vessels into the fishing territory of third countries.
The CFP lays down common rules for the labelling and marketing of fishery products, whether produced domestically or imported. It has a subsidy mechanism putting over 1 billion Euros a year into the sector. It supports development and promotion of the aquaculture sector. And it lays out the rules by which fishing quotas can be traded.
What are we expecting from the Withdrawal Agreement?
Well, during the Transition Period, the UK will be invited to give an opinion on the TAC proposals before they are considered by The Council. The Council of the EU27 will then set TACs and quotas for UK fishing. All other rules within the CFP will continue to apply to UK operations.
What about future Arrangements?
The draft of the political declaration on the future UK-EU relationship tells us very little. Of course, the whole situation re BREXIT is so chaotic that this may have changed by the time I have sat down!!
The political declaration proposes that a “lot of cooperation” be conceived and implemented to ensure sustainable fishing, and that regulatory autonomy be preserved. Perhaps an arrangement similar to Norway’s will be established. Quotas for their respective fleets are negotiated between the EU and Norway every year.
What kind of regulatory divergence might we see?
Will either the EU or UK adopt welfare specific objectives in its fishing regulations? Will either party strengthen its technical measures, and would they enforce them on foreign boats in their waters? Will either party attach sustainability or welfare criteria to imports? There is huge scope for either party to raise standards and push those onto the other party. To coin a clumsy phrase, technical measures could become ‘non-TAC barriers’, driving up standards on one side in pursuit of an advantage for one’s own fleet.
What would happen in the infamous “No Deal” scenario?
Let’s be clear this is the simple option. We skip the cooperation and regulatory alignment bits and skip straight to the regulatory autonomy bit. Still relevant is the United Nations ‘Law of the Sea’, which grants fishing rights to any fleet in any area where it has fished historically and continually. The legal processes to enforce that right aren’t quick and aren’t always well defined. Perhaps a separate agreement could/would be made. Perhaps there would be lengthy legal processes involved.
In absence of a final agreement, we might expect to see fishermen resorting to their own dispute resolution mechanisms such as we saw in the recent conflict over scallop grounds.
However, we are where are, as they say.
The result of the Referendum (whatever one thinks of the whole thing) was for the UK to leave the EU. It would be unacceptable to many, whichever way one voted in the referendum, to remain subject to all EU law ad infinitum, without having a seat in the chambers, councils and halls of Brussels and Strasbourg where those laws are thrashed out. It is clear that a deal is nearly there. But whether it is finally agreed comes down to the thorny issue of Northern Ireland and the insurance policy that is designed to prevent a return of a hard border between it and Ireland.
And then, let’s not forget, even if a way through is found, it still has to be ratified both by the European Parliament and Council on one hand, and by the House of Commons and Lords on the other. Until we know, we can only look at forecasts of how animal welfare will be impacted depending on which side of the knife edge the negotiations land.
Let us presume first of all that there is a deal, and an orderly withdrawal. This would mean that at 11pm on 29th March next year, whilst Great Britain and Northern Ireland formally leave the EU, things will, to all intents and purposes, stay exactly the same. Life for us and for animals alike will look and feel no different. For 21 months, until the end of 2020 (and possibly longer), the UK Government and the European Commission would then engage in negotiations to reach a trade agreement, and a whole bunch of stand-alone, bilateral, yet consequential pacts. These would then come in either from the 1 January 2021, or as soon as possible after then.
Firstly, we know from the Prime Minister’s Chequers proposal that the Government would start from the place of seeking to stay within the regulatory orbit of the EU in many areas, including in many goods, but also crucially in terms of animal health and welfare. This doesn’t mean that standards would be exactly the same, but that there would be a baseline we couldn’t go below in the UK, but that we could go further and faster than EU countries.
We could still ban live exports, as the government has stated it wishes to do, but sadly doesn’t plan on doing at present. Frankly, I wouldn’t hold my breath on this one. It means we could introduce mandatory method of production labelling, which would state how an animal any product is derived from had been born, reared and slaughtered. Basically it would extend the current regime we see on packets of eggs to other products. With eggs now we can choose to buy from standard, caged hens, from barn kept birds, or from organic, free range animals. The same categories would apply to meats, milk, cheese, and potentially even processed products. Clearly this is something that would empower consumers, and as the British are (allegedly) a nation of animal lovers, we would have every expectation that consumers would buy more from higher welfare producers than from low welfare producers. This is certainly what we have seen with the market in shell eggs over the past fifteen years.
The government’s new Agriculture Bill for England would, under such a deal, create the perfect environment to drive on higher welfare farming. Similar agriculture Bills are expected in the devolved administrations. Farmers would properly be rewarded for their stewardship of the countryside and for producing what consumers need. Payments would reward higher standards and would, at last, reward outcomes rather than processes. British agriculture would carry an even higher reputation for quality and would, in turn, act as a beacon for other markets around the world, not least the biggest market we will continue to sell into – the EU. Moreover, agricultural products would move tariff free into and out of the EU, not quite with the same ease at present – frictionless trade outside of the EU is impossible, but it could be as frictionless as possible.
A ban on the testing of cosmetics domestically would remain, as would a marketing ban on the animal testing from outside the EU and UK. Veterinary medicines would move as freely as possible between the UK and the EU and innovation and research and development would allow for the continued high protection of animal health.
Also, before anyone begins to wonder when I am planning on mentioning our cuddly companions, cats and dogs would still be able to move freely between the UK and the EU, so yes, we can still take them on holiday. In fact, I believe that, contrary to some newspaper and social-media articles recently, this will happen even if there’s no deal. The pet passport system is, after all, based on the animal disease risk that countries pose to animal health in the EU. This is why a whole host of non-EU countries participate in it, from Canada and Mexico, to Tunisia, Turkey, Japan and Russia. No owner should be worried about this as far. Furthermore, we know that, from the associated agreements, the UK could even export any higher standards to the EU. The European Commission is currently proposing that there should be a joint veterinary agreement between the EU and UK as part of the future relationship. This would create a ‘common veterinary area’ between the UK and the EU and indeed a common veterinary area is not a new idea. The standalone veterinary agreement between the EU and Switzerland forms the basis for such an area, ensuring that EU and Swiss regulations on the prevention of epizootic diseases are consistent and lead to the same outcomes. The resulting veterinary area allows for equivalent trading conditions for both partners.
The Swiss example demonstrates how such an agreement can maintain trade flows between the EU and a third country and reduce technical obstacles to trade by reducing or removing non-tariff trade barriers – i.e. differences in regulatory standards. Most notably, however, the Swiss agreement allowed for the abolition of border veterinary controls for trade in animals and animal products in 2009. Shipments from non-EU countries are now inspected when they enter the Swiss-EU veterinary space and can then be moved freely.
Whilst veterinary checks currently exist between Great Britain and the island of Ireland, with 10 percent of all consignments being physically inspected, such a veterinary area could possibly alleviate the need for additional checks, yet would also allow for increased targeted or intelligence-led checks to prevent non-compliant movement as necessary. This would help maintain frictionless movement in-line with the Chequers proposal, whilst reducing needless stress for the animals and safeguarding a high standard of animal health. Crucially, it could also allow for continued British collaboration with key EU regulatory agencies – particularly the European Chemicals Agency, which plays a key role in avoiding the duplication of needless animal testing.
Such a standalone agreement, underpinning a common veterinary area, may enable a level playing field in terms of existing standards, but may also provide for the dynamic alignment of future standards adopted by either territory. That is to say if one territory – the UK or the EU – were to adopt new legislation, thereby raising the bar of animal welfare in a certain sector, the other should ensure that it provides for a similar standard according to their own requirements. Whilst this may sound ambitious, it is also not unrealistic. The UK and the EU are starting from the same standards in this area, after all. Furthermore, such a mechanism aligns with government promises to maintain the “highest animal welfare standards in the world” as well as demonstrating efforts to give animals the “respect and care they deserve at every stage of their lives”, whilst ensuring Britain is not at a competitive disadvantage in the European market place.
All in all, this form of agreement could provide some benefits. A high standard of animal welfare in the UK, which can go from strength to strength, yet which broadly keeps the UK in the EU’s regulatory orbit. As such, providing these agreements are struck first, they would insulate us against a lowering of standards through other subsequent trade agreements with other partners around the world: notably the USA.
However, turning to the other scenario, where no deal is reached and things look much bleaker.
Firstly, if the UK falls back onto World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on 29 March next year, we would be the only country on the face of the planet that operates solely on these, with no other agreements in place. The resulting pressures on its domestic farming industry in particular will be intense. The UK is only 60% self-sufficient in food and imports more in every sector of animal-based agriculture than it exports, except for milk. With it having to apply ‘Most Favoured Nation’ tariffs, under WTO rules, without fear or favour to all, the pressures to import cheaper products to fill otherwise vacant supermarket shelves will be considerable. Likewise, the exigencies of domestic shortfall, coupled with competition from new markets abroad, will test the status quo.
Demand dictates supply, and whether we like it or not, intensive farming systems deliver goods more efficiently than extensive systems. The pressures to abandon support for higher welfare farming systems, both from consumers and in terms of the structural support from government would quickly win out. Current plans would go to the wall, whilst those other economic giants would rub their hands at opening their agricultural markets to British consumers, with potentially devastating effects.
New day-to-day challenges will also present themselves. Any further fall in the price of Sterling, or any significant further rise in commodity prices on global markets will, along with new tariffs, impact on the price of animal feed. Even a large proportion of the ingredients of companion animal food is imported – the vast majority from the EU. Should it become clear that no deal is around the corner, owners should remember this and I would advise them to stockpile accordingly.
Around 90% of official veterinarians in British slaughterhouses are citizens of the EU27, and around 30% of normal, private veterinarians too. Can we be assured that they will stay in post if living conditions subside? Most visibly perhaps, meat from British farms and slaughterhouses will not be registered for sale onto the EU market from 30 March next year. New veterinary and customs checks on live animals can be expected to significantly increase journey times, and that is before we begin to consider the anticipated delays that all consignments will face as they approach control posts and borders.
Delays and barriers to trade would be bound to have a knock-on effect to the availability of veterinary medicines, and whilst we know that the government have talked about stockpiling human drugs, we know of no such plans for veterinary products as yet.
Animal testing, with widespread duplication and waste, (due in part to the lack of a regulator in the UK) would be expected to double.
There are huge, daunting challenges to even begin to safeguard animal welfare in a Britain that is left with no deal.
However, I and my colleagues have some suggestions.
– Firstly we should have time to ensure that, on both sides of the Channel and Irish border, adequate resting areas are created alongside new border inspection posts. Such areas should ensure provisions for adequate food, water, grazing areas and shelter.
– Veterinary medicines should indeed be stockpiled within the UK to ensure plentiful supply, providing enough for several months at least.
– Incentives should be provided to ensure the retention of adequate numbers of official veterinarians.
– Crucially, the British government should not rush into new trade deals with partners who demand access for animal-based products with substantially lower production standards.
However, this would be easier said than done given the circumstances.
As you can no doubt see then, Brexit affects animal welfare in ways which have perhaps been overlooked, or even willfully ignored, by many including by policy makers. We are very fast now approaching a fork in the road that will ultimately determine how animal welfare looks in Britain for generations to come. It is clear that the best we can hope for, purely for the animals, is an agreement that allows for the UK to aim higher than it can at present, but which doesn’t allow for any lowering of standards. This is roughly where we are if we get a “good” deal.
However, a no deal Brexit would, in short, be a disaster.
That’s not hyperbole.
That’s not project fear.
That’s just reality.
In the meantime, all we can do is, as the saying goes, hope for the best and prepare for the worst, but I am not even sure as a country we are ANYWHERE NEAR understanding what the worst is and it would be much better if our policy makers heeded the words of Benjamin Disreali who said: ”I am prepared for the worst but hope for the best”.
Many thanks you for your kind attention.