Is the new Trade and Agriculture Commission a Trojan horse?
A blog by our Chief Executive, Chris Sherwood.
Despite a never-ending stream of Government Ministers repeating the same message - that they will not compromise on, or lower our higher British animal welfare standards - they have been surprisingly shy about putting that commitment into writing and legislation. What have they got to lose?
We welcome recent Government moves
As the RSPCA's Chief Executive, I want to be able to celebrate with our half a million supporters, that post Brexit we have succeeded in securing and improving our farm animal welfare standards. I want us to be a world leader for animal welfare, sharing our standards around the world as part of a Global Britain.
As the creators of the only animal welfare-focused farm assurance scheme in the country, I want to see RSPCA Assured products in all stores, as well as higher welfare breeds of chickens. I also want to see pigs kept together on straw - not in barren sow stalls.
I welcome recent Government moves to maintain our tariffs, preventing imports produced to lower standards from countries where we have no trade partnership. However, the government has so far resisted putting this into legislation, preventing a clear and cast-iron guarantee that our free trade agreements will not undermine our farm animal welfare standards. All the countries we want to negotiate trade agreements with have lower welfare standards than us, so the danger is real and paramount.
Our current concerns
Yesterday, the Government agreed to set up a Trade and Agriculture Commission. They hope this will settle the argument. It looks tempting and whilst this is an interesting development, it does raise questions. I have five tests that the RSPCA needs answering by the Government before we can support this initiative.
Firstly, will it have any teeth? In her letter, the Secretary of State outlined that the Commission will consider the impact of trade policies on our animal welfare standards. Indeed, the Government has been at pains to point out that it is an advisory body only. So is this a paper tiger?
Secondly, who will lead the Commission? It needs to be someone with experience and gravitas, but not someone with preconceived views on this issue. We don't want a fox to be left in charge of the chicken house.
Thirdly, will there be an animal welfare expert on the Commission? The Government wants this to protect our higher animal welfare standards so we need someone with expertise in this area. We would, of course, be very happy to contribute.
Fourthly, when the Commission issues its report, will the Government publish the report and its response, and give Parliament a transparent debate on its recommendations and adopt a binding resolution as to how it will proceed? Otherwise, it will be sitting on a shelf gathering dust.
Finally, the Government wants the Commission to be time-limited. The RSPCA believes that there needs to be an annual review of the impact of trade policies on our farm animal welfare standards. Will the Government agree to set up such a review?
Our message to the Government
The RSPCA was 196 years old earlier this month. We were initially set up to improve farm animal welfare standards, sending inspectors to check that cattle transported to Smithfield meat market in London were not cruelly treated.
I want to ensure that when we reach our 200th anniversary, those farm animal welfare standards we have spent the last two centuries championing and improving have not been undermined by imports from other countries.
My call to the Government is simple: meet those tests and we will work with you on creating this vision of a global Britain, open for business producing and exporting the best products, produced to the highest welfare standards.
However, fail to meet those tests and you'll expose your Commission as a Trojan Horse destroying the hopes of animal lovers and British Farmers, spelling a disaster for farm animal welfare standards and the lives of farm animals in the UK.
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