The UK’s largest animal welfare charity has warned that the new Trade and Agriculture Commission is a ‘Trojan horse’ that risks undermining the nation’s world-leading farm and food standards.
Giving its backing to The Mail on Sunday’s Save Our Family Farms campaign, the RSPCA criticised the Government’s failure to guarantee that the UK’s tough welfare and environmental practices would be enshrined in a future post-Brexit trade deal with the US.
It also attacked the new commission – set up by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss to tackle concerns that a deal with America could allow inferior products to flood Britain – for being a ‘Trojan horse which fails to fulfil the Government’s manifesto promises to protect welfare standards’.
It also attacked the new commission – set up by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss (pictured) to tackle concerns that a deal with America could allow inferior products to flood Britain – for being a ‘Trojan horse which fails to fulfil the Government’s manifesto promises to protect welfare standards’
Announcing details of the commission, whose members are drawn from industry and farming bodies, Ms Truss last week insisted that she was ‘putting British farming first’ and that ‘our high food and animal welfare standards won’t be compromised’.
But the RSPCA criticised Ms Truss for failing to appoint a single representative from the animal welfare sector on the 16-member board. RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: ‘Our real concern is that the commission is going to be a Trojan horse for deregulating and reducing our outstanding farm welfare standards.’
While Mr Sherwood welcomed the independence of Tim Smith – a former Food Standards Agency boss who has been named as the commission’s chairman – he questioned whether the panel would have teeth, given that its findings will only be advisory.
‘When the commission publishes its report, Parliament needs to have the opportunity for transparent debate on its recommendations and the ability to pass a binding resolution,’ said Mr Sherwood.
Announcing details of the commission, whose members are drawn from industry and farming bodies, Ms Truss last week insisted that she was ‘putting British farming first’ and that ‘our high food and animal welfare standards won’t be compromised’
‘We don’t want this to be something where the report gets buried or is kicked into the proverbial long grass. Instead, we want to see a cast iron, legal guarantee in the Agricultural Bill that our animal welfare standards will be protected in future free trade deals.
‘We want to see the UK exporting our leading farm and animal welfare standards around the world – championing our high standards and ensuring that food coming into the UK, which is unlawful to produce here, is not allowed in.’
Mr Sherwood said the Conservative Party made a manifesto pledge before last year’s Election to protect animal welfare standards.
Ministers insist they will not undermine UK standards in any future trade deal but farmers and campaigners were left furious in May when a bid to enshrine the promise into law as part of the new Agricultural Bill was defeated. There are also fears that farmers will be undercut by low-quality imports from countries which have weaker welfare standards.
Mr Sherwood warned this could result in a flood of chlorinated chicken, hormone-fed beef, pork produced from sow-stall systems, and egg products from hens in battery cages.
‘The reason why chlorine is used is because chickens are kept in such filthy conditions and their waste isn’t removed after they are slaughtered,’ he said. ‘That wouldn’t happen here because of our animal welfare rules.’
Environment Secretary George Eustice has previously called animal welfare law in the US ‘woefully deficient’.
The RSPCA will support the Commission, but Mr Sherwood urged the Government to go further by amending the Agricultural Bill to enshrine their commitment to our animal welfare standards.
‘Without this clear, legal protection, the Government is leaving the door open to rolling back on these promises and negotiating away these crucial protections,’ he said.
‘Brexit presents an opportunity: to protect our farm animals and protect British farmers, making Britain a beacon for higher welfare production, and we urge the Government to grasp this.
‘This stuff really matters. Agricultural Bills only get passed very rarely because they take an awful lot of parliamentary time. This Bill could be our legislation for the next ten to 20 years. This is about future-proofing farm animal welfare standards and ensuring that they’re safeguarded for a generation.’
The RSPCA’s intervention came as Mr Smith called for ‘cool heads and thoughtful discussion’.
Calling for ‘an international coalition that helps advance higher animal welfare standards across the world’, he expressed hope that the UK’s ‘world-leading’ animal welfare standards could influence World Trade Organisation policy.
However, he failed to rule out chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef being allowed into the UK as part of a US trade deal.