'Action not words' will judge success of Downing Street Food Summit

'Action not words' will judge success of Downing Street Food Summit

The RSPCA says the UK Government needs "more than just words" to prove its animal welfare agenda is back on track - as the Prime Minister announces a new six-point plan he says will ensure British farming is at the heart of trade.

The charity has cautiously welcomed much of the plan, which was announced at today's Downing Street Farm to Fork Summit Food Summit - including refreshed commitments to protect UK food standards in trade and to promote high welfare standards.

However, the RSPCA  says "the proof will be in the pudding"  with animal welfare having too often taken a "back seat" in post-Brexit trade negotiations.

Already, a deal with the 11 country Trans-Pacific trade bloc signs the UK up to importing food using production methods illegal at home - including sow stalls and battery cages for laying hens. This included trade deals with Canada and Mexico that risk opening up UK markets to lower-welfare eggs; as well as pork, beef and lamb products reared to standards banned domestically. 

The UK Government has been urged to make any future overseas trade conditional on core animal welfare standards - to ensure domestic agriculture and standards, are not undermined by cheap, lower-welfare imports.  

RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: "The UK Government needs to put animal welfare at the heart of their food policy.

"But while there's much to welcome in today's six-point plan, it will take more than just words for this administration to get their animal welfare agenda, and commitment to high welfare in trade, back on track. 

"When it comes to protecting animal welfare in trade, the proof will be in the pudding. But Ministers have already sold out on imported eggs and pig products from Canada, and UK markets have been opened up to lower-welfare beef and lamb from Australia - so clearly there needs to be a change in course to match the rhetoric of this Summit.

"Too often animal welfare has taken a back seat at the negotiating table - but if the UK Government is now serious about changing that, they need to make any overseas trade conditional on core animal welfare standards, giving renewed confidence to farmers and consumers."

The charity has also said the "best way" for the UK Government to reset its animal welfare agenda would be to revive its stalled Kept Animals Bill, which has now been in parliamentary limbo for more than 550 days - including its manifesto pledge to ban the live export of animals for further fattening and slaughter abroad, long earmarked a benefit of Brexit. 

David added: "Sadly, the UK Government's Kept Animals Bill has been in limbo since November 2021; and animals have paid the price. As part of any reset of their animal welfare agenda, this legislation must return as a priority - before time runs out.

"The Bill pledged to do so much for animals - including a ban on the live export of animals for further fattening and slaughter. If UK Ministers really are promoting high animal welfare standards in agriculture, then the UK must stop condemning countless farm animals to these cruel and unnecessary journeys."

The RSPCA believes the UK Government needs a clear vision for sustainable food and farming - and has urged Ministers to ensure the Summit is "not a missed opportunity". 

Last year, food tsar Henry Dimbleby published an independent food review, which was warmly welcomed by the RSPCA. This recommended that farm animal welfare standards should not be compromised by trade deals, that method of production labelling should be introduced, and for a 30% meat consumption reduction target - but much of its suggestions were ignored by Ministers. 

David added: "We previously raised concerns that the UK Government's response to a recent report from Henry Dimbleby on government food strategy did not go far enough. 

"This Food Summit was a real opportunity to put that right - and for the UK Government to set out a meaningful future vision for sustainable food and farming. We urge Ministers to ensure this Summit was not a missed opportunity, and to ensure animal welfare is at the heart of UK food policy in this country."