The report is supported by the NFU and RSPCA, and highlights the risk that the UK's comparatively high animal welfare standards in food production will be undercut by lower-standard imports.
To prevent the allowance of sub-standard imports taking root, the report argues the UK must establish a set of animal welfare core standards in its trade policy that can be used in negotiations with partners, and then make meeting these conditions a key requirement for trade liberalisation of imports in the agri-food industry.
Among the report's key recommendations for how to do this:
"By establishing a set of core standards, the UK would ensure that the food we eat, whether produced here or abroad, meets the high expectations of British consumers."
NFU director of trade and business strategy Nick von Westenholz
- Trade liberalisation, in the form of tariff and quota reductions, should be linked to meeting these animal welfare core standards in food production
- Imports should be controlled not only on the grounds of the product`s safety (product standards), but also on how it has been made (production standards)
- In collaboration with industry and civil society partners, the UK should adopt core production standards for the agri-food industry in its trade policy that will apply to any future trade deals
- These standards should be recognised in future FTAs – which should also contain strong and specific wording that commits all parties to promote cooperation on welfare standards internationally
- The UK should seek opportunities to drive global agreement and recognition of high standards in food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection in international forums
The Report comes at a time when the UK is trying to find its feet as an independent trading nation for the first time in over 40 years. Since leaving the EU in January 2020, the UK has been free to pursue its own trade policy, decide on the level of tariffs it applies to all imports, and negotiate its own deals.
This has led to two recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Australia (December 2021) and New Zealand (February 2022); the first of many bilateral trade deals that will reshape the international agri-food landscape.
Yet, despite the many economic benefits of these agreements, they pose a unique challenge from an environmental and animal welfare perspective. Studies have shown there are clear differences between Australian and UK standards on this issue. Australia often has live animal transport times that are double that in the UK and permits practices of mutilation that are prohibited here.
India, for example – the most likely next FTA to be signed by the government – has many animal rights practices that would be prohibited at home. Whilst Indian law bans the killing of animals for food without stunning them first, in practice this rule is often ignored. This is because of an insufficient number of legal slaughterhouses across the country, and the inability of federal and state governments to shut down illegal abattoirs.