Farming: Imports warning over plans to beef up welfare rules

New UK Government plans to raise the welfare bar for livestock and other animals must be matched by setting similar standards for food imports.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said he is committing to ‘game changing’ animal welfare measures

Claiming that to do otherwise would be “hypocritical”, farming groups have stressed that British farmers who adhered to some of the highest standards in the world should not be undercut by imports that “barely meet the lowest rung on the ladder”.

Launching the action plan for animal welfare, earlier this week, UK Environment Secretary George Eustice, said the proposals would build on the country’s world-leading standards by committing to ‘game changing’ welfare measures.

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On the farmed animal front, the proposals included: ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter; introducing new measures to improve welfare during transport; giving the police more powers to protect farm animals from dangerous or out of control dogs; examining the use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs; improving animal welfare at slaughter and incentivising farmers to improve animal health and welfare through future farming policy.

Eustice also promised that the Government would ensure animal welfare was not compromised in future trade negotiations.

Responding to the plan, English NFU President Minette Batters said that British farmer were proud to be global leaders in animal welfare but added: “I have serious concerns about the government’s intention to raise the bar at home, without any certainty that the same standards will be applied to imports. There are still many practices allowed in countries we are currently negotiating with that are banned here, on welfare grounds.”

And while legislation surrounding animal welfare remains a devolved issue, the considerable numbers of Scottish livestock being transported south for slaughter means that any differences in travel-time and other transport regulations could create a logistical nightmare for haulage companies.

Similarly, proposals to ban live exports have raised concerns amongst producers in many of Scotland’s islands – and while the transport arrangements on the ferries moving stock to the mainland have been unanimously praised by welfare organisations, fears continue that such traffic could also be targeted in future.

However a Scottish Government spokesperson stated that it planned its own review of animal welfare legislation in the near future, adding: “We fully recognise the vital importance of traditional patterns of movement for livestock in island and remote rural communities, and will continue to protect the needs and interests of Scottish farming and crofting by ensuring that appropriate livestock movements between all areas of Scotland can continue.”

NFU Scotland said that welfare issues were complex – and following the recent ill-thought-out DEFRA consultation on livestock transport, it urged better collaboration with industry to allow the delivery of better regulation and genuine animal welfare improvements.

“There was welcome recognition of the devolved status of animal welfare policy and, following some previously disjointed consultations on animal welfare, it was reassuring to see a commitment to working more closely with the devolved governments to develop more seamless regulation,” said the union’s Penny Middleton who said NFUS looked forward to engaging with the Scottish Government on this.

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