Most conversations about Brexit centre around immigration or the economy. While these are undoubtedly very important issues that concern British residents, immigrants, and even people living in the EU, we are left to wonder about what will happen to animals affected by Brexit. With more than three-quarters of animal welfare legislation currently fixed in EU law, this is a crucial time for ensuring the best legal position possible for animals. There are opportunities that can improve the lives of animals beyond what is currently laid out in EU legislation, but things could also take a turn for the worse.
It is obvious that there is much work to be done; in November 2017, the UK Government voted against including the recognition of animal sentience in the EU Withdrawal Bill. In a response to outcry from animal welfare advocates and opposing politicians, Environment Secretary Michael Gove proposed the explicit recognition of animal’s ability to experience pain and pleasure in a draft bill. It is unclear what will ultimately happen, but clear and unambiguous legislation that recognizes animals as sentient beings would be a more promising starting point.
Luckily, animal welfare organisations have been busy campaigning for ‘a good deal for animals’ after Brexit. More than 40 animal welfare charities in the UK have partnered and have created a report with their recommendations to ensure the welfare off all animals living in the UK after Brexit. This is meant to ensure that, at the very least, current standards will be maintained, and where possible improved. You can find the report that was released earlier this year here. The recommendations are divided into four categories: wild animals, farm animals, pets, and animals used in research.
- Farm animals
Key issues are tackling long-distance transport of farm animals (and equines), the introduction of additional legislation on slaughterhouses, the introduction of a farm payment system that encourages higher welfare standards, and prohibiting the routine preventive use of antibiotics.
- Wild animals
Key issues: ensuring current legislation concerning the welfare of wild animals and its habitat will be maintained or enhanced, wildlife trade regulations should follow or go beyond CITES, keeping the Zoo Licensing Act in force to ensure the highest level of animal welfare possible for captive animals, and improving welfare levels of marine life.
One of the focus points in this area is the movement of dogs, cats, and equines; maintaining current monitoring levels across Europe, the development of a database, and border checks to curb illegal commercial activities.
- Animals used in research
Central is the need to maintain current EU standards, ideally with the objective to phase out harmful testing on animals. Greater transparency and public awareness are necessary, as is support for scientific research methods that replace the use of animals with valid alternatives.
It will be interesting to see how the debate on animal welfare post-Brexit unfolds. I certainly hope that the UK Government addresses the concerns that the animal welfare movement has voiced, and that animals are not the ones being left out once again.