The UK Government has been urged to stop ‘dragging its heels’ and enshrine animal welfare standards in the UK Agriculture Bill.
Westminster’s creation of a Trade and Agriculture Commission – to advise on food production standards in the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals – continues to face criticism for not going far enough to protect UK farmers and consumers from lower welfare imports. The new commission has also been accused of failing to include a wide enough range of expertise.
In response, the Department for International Trade met this week with various industry bodies in Whitehall for its formal launch and to discuss how they could support it.
International Trade secretary, Liz Truss MP, said: “We’re stepping up our engagement with all the groups who have an interest in Britain’s agriculture trade policy. The Trade and Agriculture Commission will ensure the voices of the public and industry are heard, and that their interests are advanced and protected.
“This is about putting British farming at the heart of our trade policy and ensuring that our agriculture industry is amongst the most competitive and innovative in the world.”
Chief executive of the RSPCA, Chris Sherwood, remained unconvinced that the commission goes far enough to protect animal welfare: “We have repeatedly raised concerns it needs to be transparent, expert and answerable to Parliament.
“Though we feel the commission could be valuable in protecting welfare standards and continue to offer our help and involvement, we remain concerned it could simply be a Trojan Horse which fails to fulfil the government’s manifesto promises to protect welfare standards.”
“Our message is clear: we want government to stop dragging its heels and enshrine these vital changes to safeguard our hard fought farm animal welfare laws. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the lives of billions of farm animals by creating a system to support British farmers and our farm legislation.”
Chief executive of the National Sheep Association, Phil Stocker, though, welcomed the engagement: “There was a strong commitment to protecting and valuing our high environmental and animal welfare standards, and Secretary of State Liz Truss was joined briefly by her counterpart, George Eustice, in reinforcing that message. The commission has a lot of work to do in a matter of six months – a point put across by its chair Tim Smith – and the launch was a good opportunity to talk with a number of people appointed to the commission.”
BVA senior vice-president, Simon Doherty, also attended the launch: “I had the opportunity to pose a question to the Secretary of State and the chair on how they would ensure that veterinary expertise on animal health and welfare is represented in any future trade policies and was assured that that there will be opportunity for the veterinary profession and BVA to provide input via working groups on issues such as animal health and welfare standards, sanitary and phytosanitary arrangements, and veterinary public health and certification.
“The public is rightly concerned about securing the UK’s animal health and welfare standards in the future so it’s essential that the commission receives expert input from the veterinary profession and we are keen to make sure that happens.”