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36 animal welfare organisations warn of public dismay as animals become victims of Brexit

A huge coalition of animal welfare organisations is calling on Governments in the UK to heed passionate public opinion and cross-party support on preventing animal protection laws being watered down. Visit our campaign page to support the #BetterDealForAnimals campaign.

19 February 2019

Thirty-six animal welfare organisations [1] are warning that the UK Government risks public dismay if it waters down animal protections in UK law post-Brexit [2], following on from a public outcry in late 2017 over weakening animal sentience law. [3] New research released today reveals that more than 8 out of 10 people (81%) think that animal welfare laws should be maintained or strengthened post-Brexit, while only 2% feel it might be acceptable to have weaker animal protections.

The warning comes as a new #BetterDealForAnimals campaign is launched, to make sure that animals don’t become victims of Brexit. The campaign is calling for animal sentience to be explicitly enshrined in UK law, as it is in the EU, and for any future legislation or Government policy to fully take into account its impact on the welfare of animals. Without this, the UK Government’s current planned legislation will weaken protection for animals across the country.

A major event in Parliament on 26 February will demonstrate strong cross-party support for the demand to fully recognise animal sentience in UK law before we leave the EU. This event is sponsored by Nic Dakin MP (Lab), Zac Goldsmith MP (Con), Tim Farron MP (Lib Dem), and Deidre Brock MP (SNP), and Sue Hayman MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) will be speaking.

The calls to protect animal welfare are strongly supported by the public - new research published today, and conducted by YouGov [4] on behalf of the charities, reveals that:

  • Voters for all the main political parties believe that animal welfare laws should be maintained or made more extensive than they are now – 86% of Conservative voters, 84% of Labour voters and 82% of Lib Dem voters
  • 80% of the British public want post-Brexit Government trade deals to have clear requirements that imported animal products meet or exceed British animal welfare production standards. Only 6% say this should not be a requirement.
  • Almost 7 out of 10 (68%) want legal requirements to ensure that animal welfare is protected when new laws and policies are made, to the greatest extent possible. Only 3% oppose this
  • Less than a third (31%) of the public are confident that the UK Government will live up to its promises of being a world leader on animal welfare, 56% say they are not confident
  • Two-thirds (66%) want an animal protection committee established to give expert independent advice to government on safeguarding animal welfare

Claire Bass, Humane Society International UK Executive Director and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Animal Welfare Group, said: ‘Since passing the first animal protection law in the world, almost 200 years ago, our country has been a proud global leader in evolving science, ethics and policy to better protect animals. Now, as the Brexit deadline closes in, we are facing a weakening in our vitally important animal welfare laws. We need a firm and clear commitment from the government that it will recognise animal sentience in a strong law that has ‘bite’, to make sure animals do not become victims of Brexit.’

Sonul Badiani-Hamment, World Animal Protection External Affairs Adviser, said: ‘The Government keep stating that animal welfare is a priority for them, yet the public are still waiting for them to take action and protect them in law. Keeping the basic legal protections we have in the EU, and building on these, is vital if we’re to live up to the promise of being a world leader on animal welfare.’

David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at the RSPCA, said: ‘A nation of animal lovers will not stand-by while the UK Government weakens animal protections. We must speak up for animals who can’t speak for themselves. With eighty six percent of the Government’s own voters saying they want animal welfare laws maintained or strengthened, the Government must heed this message and live up to its promises to protect our treasured animals.’

Additional quotes from the Donkey Sanctuary, Four Paws UK, Cruelty Free International, Naturewatch Foundation, Animal Defenders International, Cat’s Protection and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, can be found here.

Following the public backlash about animal sentience law not being included in the Withdrawal Bill in November 2017, the UK Government made firm commitments ‘to make sure Brexit delivers not just for the British people, but for animals too’. These included promises to be ‘a world leader in the care and protection of animals’ and that the Government would ‘strengthen our animal welfare rules.’ [5]

Yet, under current UK Government legislation plans, animals would receive less legal protection post-Brexit than they do while we’re part of the EU. This is because Government Departments would not have the same legal requirement to take account of animal sentience and welfare in all new laws, policy and their delivery. The UK Government says animals are protected by existing laws – particularly the Animal Welfare Act 2006 – but this doesn't cover all animals, such as free living wildlife and other overriding ‘protection’ legislation on farm animals permits poor practices, such as keeping laying hens caged, and farming ducks without full body access to water for bathing.

This is particularly worrying given the huge range of Government policy decisions to be made post-Brexit which could harm animals without strong legal protections, for example:

  • New trade deals could permit imports of lower welfare animal products – such as chicken carcasses washed in chlorine and meat and dairy produced from hormone-treated animals – leading to a race to the bottom in UK farming standards to compete on price;
  • Building of terrestrial and marine developments, and major infrastructure projects, e.g. housing, motorways and offshore renewable developments, may not have to consider the animal welfare impact to the same extent as under EU rules, risking avoidable suffering of wildlife;
  • Government Departments and Agencies responsible for UK International aid, could invest in overseas intensive farming systems banned in the UK due to poor animal welfare standards;
  • Wildlife management practices could more easily use inhumane methods, resulting in cruel and painful animal deaths
  • Disturbance of marine animals could be even harder to determine as a wildlife crime - leading, for example, to more dolphins being disturbed by thoughtless boat users;

The animal welfare coalition is calling on Governments in the UK to keep vital legal animal protections in place as we leave the EU. The coalition is urging MPs to show their support for protecting our much-loved animals by attending the Parliamentary event and backing an EDM on the issue. It is also urging members of the public to back the calls of the #BetterDealForAnimals campaign by Tweeting or writing to their MP:


Notes to Editors:

  1. The 36 organisations backing these calls are: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Animal Aid, Animal Defenders International, Animal Equality United Kingdom, Animal Protection Agency, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Badger Trust, Born Free Foundation, Catholic Concern for Animals, Cats Protection, Change for Animals Foundation, Christian Vegetarian Association, Compassion in World Farming, Cruelty Free International, Crustacean Compassion, Dogs Trust, Four Paws, the Humane League, Humane Society International, International Animal Rescue, IFAW, League Against Cruel Sports, Mayhew, Naturewatch Foundation, OneKind, PDSA, PETA, Quaker Concern for Animals, RSPCA, The Donkey Sanctuary, Save Me Trust, Shellfish Network, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Wild Welfare, Wildlife and Countryside Link, and World Animal Protection.
  2. In November 2017 MPs voted against an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill which would have recognised animals as sentient in UK law. After the following media and public backlash, the Government rapidly produced a draft Animal Welfare (Sentience and Sentencing) Bill, with the aim of recognising animal sentience and maintaining animal protections currently provided by EU law. Following some feedback from the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee (EFRA) the Government then withdrew the Bill in Spring 2018 in order to put further thought into the detail of sentience part of the text. The options available for to Government to now pass into law recognition of animal sentience, and a duty to pay all due regard to animals’ welfare needs in policy making, are to return to a stand-alone Animal Welfare (Sentience and Sentencing Bill), or to pass the measures as amendments to an existing Bill (e.g. Withdrawal or Environment Bill).
  3. Animal sentience legislation is vital to properly recognise the scientific evidence that many animals are sentient, can experience the world around them and can feel pain, suffering, and pleasure, and are not mere objects or commodities.
  4. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,825 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4-5 February 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). The full results can be viewed here. YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by their rules.
  5. The Welsh Government also confirmed that they would support the UK Government’s sentience Bill to ensure protections for animals in Wales.

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