The RSPCA is urging Brits to sign a petition pressing the government to legally honour its commitment made during the 2019 General Election to protect UK farm animal welfare as part of the Agriculture Bill.
The quality of animal products on the shelves in the UK could be under threat due to future trade deals with the USA where there are no federal laws governing how certain farm animals are reared.
For example, three quarters of egg laying hens in the US live in battery cages, while cramped sow stalls for rearing pigs still operate in the US.
The UK banned sow stalls (or gestation crates) in 1999 and consequently banned battery cages in 2012.
RSPCA chief executive, Chris Sherwood, is concerned the UK may regress greatly if the government fails to protect farm animal welfare.
“This video gives a stark warning about what could end up on our supermarket shelves if the UK Government does not act now to legally protect our welfare standards,” he said.
“We know this is a concern for consumers and without clear legislation banning food produced to lower welfare standards from our shores, we risk setting back animal welfare by decades, causing the suffering of more animals to produce the food on our plates.”
Poultry, eggs, and pork from animals reared in poorer conditions are cheaper to produce and could undercut the UK farmers who strive for better quality products.
Farm Sanctuary research director and former director of research at Mercy For Animals, Lauri Torgerson, said: ““Consumers want to know that the animals they are eating have been treated well, at least while they were alive, and we can’t say that in the United States, at all.”
She continued by saying that the US industrial animal system is designed to benefit huge, often multinational corporations at the expense of animal welfare, farmer well-being and the earth.
“I think the UK has been a leader in animal welfare, and has a way to go still, but buying animal products from the US would dilute all the hard work that’s gone into improving all the systems there,” she said.
Cramped conditions in the US lead to behavioural restrictions and psychological distress in farmed animals.
Hens in battery cages are unable to forage, dust bathe or nest.
Broiler chickens raised in dark, barren sheds wade in their own litter hence, when slaughtered, their carcasses are washed in chlorinated water to disinfect them from their own bacteria.
Sows in gestation crates are highly uncomfortable and not large enough for one to turn around or lay down, and due to a lack of proper bedding they sleep on the floor resulting on bruises on their bodies.
In the general election of December 2019 the Conservative Party’s stance on animal welfare was to safeguard the high standards of animal welfare following a post-Brexit deal.
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards,” it says.
Market research company, Savanta ComRes, conducted online interviews with 2,065 adults in England in August 2020 on whether the UK Government should honour this commitment and 75% of the respondents agreed.
The RSPCA’s aims for the future include: providing subsidies to farmers to continue improving the welfare of farm animals, ecological farming practices, method of production and slaughter labelling on all animal products, and a clear commitment in a Government Bill to ensure no lower quality imported products.
“We urge UK shoppers to sign this petition in the hope that the Government will listen to the British public and protect our hard-won farm animal welfare,” Mr Sherwood said.