EU (Withdrawal) Bill omits animal sentience

(An edited version of a Brexit update that I wrote for the International Vegan Rights Alliance.)

While some animal advocates may see Brexit as an opportunity to end the export of live animals or the import and sale of foie gras (both permitted within the EU), others are concerned that the UK's animal welfare laws may instead be weakened - as much of that protection currently comes from EU regulations (the prohibition of battery cages for laying hens, cosmetic tests on animals, etc.)

In July this year, a House of Lords report expressed that "the greatest threat to farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit would come from UK farmers competing against cheap, imported food from countries that produce to lower standards than the UK. Unless consumers are willing to pay for higher welfare products, UK farmers could become uncompetitive and welfare standards in the UK could come under pressure."

Only a week before the report's publication, Environment Secretary Michael Gove had assured the House Of Commons that "The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of EU environmental and animal welfare law into United Kingdom law. The government have made it clear that we intend, as a minimum, to retain our existing standards of environmental and animal welfare once we have left the EU. We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and I intend us to remain world leading in the future."

However, on publication of the Bill, Compassion In Word Farming's Head Of Policy, Dr Nick Palmer, noted that something was missing. "The British public has been led to believe that the Bill would just transfer European legislation wholesale, to allow for later modification. But today's publication suggests that this is not the case. How can the UK be seen as a leader in animal welfare when the repeal bill fails to guarantee that animals will continue to be regarded as sentient beings?" (as enshrined in Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty).

Lord Gardiner, Under Secretary of State for DEFRA, confirmed this omission was intentional, saying that "This obligation will not be preserved by the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which delivers our promise to end the supremacy of EU law in the UK".

Therefore, we are already seeing a weakening of the UK's animal protection law after March 2019.

However, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, has tabled an amendment to the Bill to reinstate the recognition of animal sentience, and Compassion In Word Farming's has created a petition with a similar objective.

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