Why does the Agriculture Bill matter for animal welfare in the UK

Why the Agriculture Bill matters for animal welfare in the UK

We've been working hard to ensure that, when Brexit happens and we leave the EU, our farm animal welfare standards are protected via the Agriculture Bill which is currently going through Parliament.

The UK still has a long way to go in terms of the laws surrounding farm animals, but many other countries, such as the US, have far lower standards. To allow imports of products from systems illegal here would undermine our standards and undercut British farmers.

We spoke to Lauri Torgerson, Research Director at US-based animal welfare charity, Farm Sanctuary, to find out what the animal welfare implications are.

What are animal welfare standards currently like in the US?

Unlike the UK, the USA has no federal laws governing animal welfare during the rearing of species such as chickens and pigs. Lauri says:

"Our 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 although they have a way to go still, buying animal products from the US would dilute all the hard work that's gone into improving all of the systems there.

The average consumer in the UK would be disappointed to know that the products they're buying could be coming from systems in the US that don't support the rights of animals, humans, or the earth."

How are laying hens kept in the US compared to the UK?

In the US:

  • Egg-laying hens have nearly half the space UK hens have (350 cm2 per hen)
  • 5% of hens are free-range, and 74% are kept in cages
  • Barren battery cages are legal

In the UK:

  • Egg-laying hens are legally required to have 750 cm2 per hen
  • 52% of laying hens are free-range
  • Barren battery cages were banned in 2012

Lauri explains:

"Three quarters of laying hens in the USA are living in battery cage systems which are awful for animal welfare. They result in severe behavioural restrictions, hens are unable to forage, dust bathe or nest, which are all really important behaviours for a laying hen to perform."

What's standard practice for broiler chickens in the US?

Lauri continues:

"The vast majority of broiler chickens in the US are raised in dark, barren sheds, at very high stocking densities, on the litter (floor covering) of several flocks. Imagine living on the litter that literally hundreds of thousands of birds who have lived their lives on.

The reason that the US dips chickens in chlorine is that the birds are literally sitting in each others' waste - it allows them to kill the bacteria that is on the birds as a result of sitting in unsanitary conditions their whole lives."

What are the key issues affecting pigs?

In the US: 

  • Sow stalls/gestation crates are still in use by major pig producing states. 

In the UK:

  • Sow stalls were banned in the UK in 1999.

The vast majority of the 60% of pork imported to the UK currently comes from the EU, and so without a deal, we will lose our major supplier leaving us vulnerable to lower standard pork imports.

As explained by Lauri:

"In the US, the majority of sows are still living out their lives alternating between a gestation crate and a farrowing stall. The gestation crate is not large enough for her to even turn around or lay down comfortably. There's usually no bedding and as a result, she will end up with sores on her shoulders as a result of having to lay on this slatted floor."

What's the current situation with the Agriculture Bill?

We're over the moon that tens of thousands of you signed our petition to stop lower animal welfare imports entering the UK as part of future trade deals.

As a result, the House of Lords listened and voted to add a new section to the Agriculture Bill which says that the UK Government must not sign trade agreements that undermine our animal welfare standards by allowing in lower welfare products.

This is great news, but, we now need to make sure that MPs keep this amendment in the Bill when it goes back to the House of Commons in October 2020. Take action now and email your MP to stand up for farm animals.

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