I believe that we should look to uphold the highest standards of animal welfare from birth to death, irrespective of the status of the animal. The European Union has been a world leader in creating better animal welfare standards and I fear that Brexit may see the UK go backwards in this area as in so many others. The animal welfare standards we have here at the moment are the same as the standards right across the EU, so there aren’t fewer protections once animals are abroad, which is good.
There have been court cases about how live animal exports are affected by free trade rules while we’re in the EU and the RSPCA has suggested that WTO rules would prevent a ban on live exports after the UK leaves the EU. There’s a good briefing on the issues from the House of Commons Library, including calls for the bans and the numbers of animals exported, and you can read that at this link – http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-8031/CBP-8031.pdf (it’s a pdf).
The Farm Animal Welfare Committee, which advises the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments, is currently looking at the issue, though, after those governments asked for its advice. That’s mentioned in the Library briefing and we await the report of the Committee to see what next steps are recommended.
In the meantime, though, I and my SNP colleagues will try to make sure that we continue to adhere to those very high EU standards on animal welfare, including when animals are transported. I appreciate that transport of animals is part of our modern commercial agriculture industry and I want to see the highest standards maintained in it.
Farmers have said repeatedly that it is not in their interests to have their animals sick, injured or stressed – it affects their business in terms of the end product being poorer, clearly, but it also affects their breeding capacity and the amount they have to spend on vet bills. In an industry where margins for all but the biggest operators are tight, those would be strong business considerations for farmers, even if they didn’t care about the welfare of the animals. Most farmers, though, appear to care for the welfare of their animals in any case.
We’re in uncertain times just now and what happens in the next few months will affect all kinds of issues – animal transport and other welfare considerations will be among them. The SNP will continue to work for the highest welfare standards.