The RSPCA has welcomed Aldi’s announcement that the store would not sell chlorine washed chicken or hormone beef as a crucial debate is due to start in the House of Lords. The low cost retailer, which stocks RSPCA Assured products, joined Waitrose in pledging not to sell lower welfare imports.
This week will see the House of Lords discuss the landmark animal welfare law – The Agriculture Bill – considering a number of amendments that could see current British animal welfare standards safeguarded by law.
Chris Sherwood, Chief Executive of the RSPCA said: “It is great to see retailers like Aldi and Waitrose speaking out against lower welfare imports, it shows that shoppers of all incomes have no appetite for lower welfare imports. We would welcome other retailers making the same commitment. However, more importantly we want to see the Government take action now to to enshrine in law the Government’s manifesto commitment that they would not accept imports of food products produced to lower welfare standards.
“The House of Lords is debating this issue this week. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to safeguard and improve farm animal welfare now and for the future. We should export higher welfare standards, not import barren battery cage eggs, pork from pigs kept in sow stalls, hormone fed beef or chlorinated chicken which will undercut British farming standards and start a race to the bottom in animal welfare standards.”
Although the Government has made promises in their manifesto that they will not negotiate animal welfare standards, this is not legally binding. The UK inherits laws from the EU banning chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef but there is nothing to stop this legislation being amended in future.
RSPCA polling showed 67% of people are opposed to the import of food products produced to standards unlawful in the UK.
Mr Sherwood continued: “A legally binding guarantee which protects our animal standards needs to be explicit in the Agriculture Bill. Ministers have repeatedly promised they will not sell out on our standards so there should be no reason not to commit this to law. The RSPCA Assured is the only welfare-focused assurance scheme, has thousands of members across the UK to ensure many millions animals a year have a good quality of life. We want to see those higher welfare standards are exported as part of Global Britain post-Brexit.”
The RSPCA has campaigned extensively during the past two years for a number of important animal welfare measures in the Bill, and around 20,000 members of the charity’s supporters lobbied their MPs on the issue.
The animal welfare charity was encouraged that the Bill voted through by the House of Commons in the spring included the development of a scheme to provide financial rewards for farmers in England who improve their animal welfare practices, an approach actively encouraged by the RSPCA, as well as the official recognition of animal welfare as a ‘public good’. However, campaigners were left disappointed that other key aspects such as protection for farmers in England against lower welfare imports were not included, despite an earlier commitment to this. At a time when the UK is negotiating new trade deals with the USA, Australia and Japan, all of whom have lower legal requirements in some areas for farm animal welfare than the UK, the charity fears that any measures to raise standards will be undermined if England allows entry of produce from animals reared to lower welfare standards, including in systems that would be illegal within the country.
The RSPCA cautiously welcomes the idea of a ‘trade standards commission’ that could play a role in protecting UK farm animal welfare standards in trade deals, has argued that the Trade Commission needs to meet our five tests in being independent, expert, transparent, meaningful and accountable to parliament. This week will see amendments put forward to strengthen the role of the commission in protecting these standards.
Method of production labelling, which would allow shoppers to make an informed choice and encourage producers to use higher welfare practices, is likely to be introduced through the Bill, something the RSPCA has long-campaigned for. The charity hopes that an amendment this week will make it legally binding for the Government to introduce such product labelling.
Mr Sherwood added: “Along with our supporters, we now anxiously await the discussion and vote in the House of Lords. This is a critical moment for the Government to show that their commitment to maintaining standards and protecting British farmers – and farm animals – is more than lip service.”
More details about the RSPCA’s campaign work for farm animal welfare can be found on the charity’s website: www.rspca.org.uk/farmanimalaction.