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What does Brexit mean for animal welfare?

The following article has been taken from the RSPCA website, published on 7 July 2016 : https://blogs.rspca.org.uk/insights/2016/07/07/brexit-animal-welfare/#.V5nb2fkrK7t

As you all are aware, the UK narrowly voted to leave the European Union in June.

The RSPCA remained neutral during the EU referendum, but we can now campaign to ensure that animal welfare is not compromised as part of the process to leave the EU, and ensure opportunities are taken to improve existing policies and standards.

There are many unknowns to be sorted out before the UK can leave the EU; what will be our negotiating position, how long will this take, and when will we know what animal welfare laws are being kept and what ones consigned to the dustbin?

One thing that is certain is that the RSPCA will be there fighting for the protection of all present European legislation on animals, and using every opportunity to get laws passed that are even better than the ones we have now.

We will produce detailed briefings in due course, but want to reassure you that we are paying very close attention to this issue and will summarise what we know at present.

Firstly the good news


Veterinary Nurse Tammy Jarvis holding 12-week-old Staffie pup. All the laws that are set at the national level, by the Governments and Parliaments in the UK, will not be touched.

These include our Animal Welfare Act which is the framework law for animal cruelty in England and Wales.  We spend the majority of our time and money enforcing this legislation, through our 340 inspectors.

Our aim; protecting and rescuinganimals from suffering, rehabilitatingthem through our 50 centres and clinics and then finding them forever homes, will not change.  Specific laws on companion animal welfare  (by this we mean domesticated animals and pets) under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 will continue.

This includes:

  • Restrictions on the tail docking of dogs
  • The ban on the use of shock collars in Wales
  • Licensing of horse riding establishments
  • The raft of legislation the UK Government is now considering on the breeding, boarding and selling of dogs
  • The selling of all animals in England

Sentencing is also not part of the EU so will not be impacted.  Other areas not affected include the hunting of wild animals with dogs (the Hunting Act 2004 in England and Wales), the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses, and the ban on fur farming.

How many animal welfare laws come from the EU?


SIngle juvenile foxAround 80% of UK animal welfare legislation originates from the EU with some 44 different laws agreed over the past 42 years.

The largest number cover farm animalswith 17 EU laws setting standards on the way farm animals are reared and produced, transported and slaughtered.  There is also legislation covering consumer information such as labelling the origin of eggs and meat products.

The eleven laws covering wildlife fall into two areas – those that are part of international treaties and those that are not.  The former are likely to be better protected as we are members already of those treaties.  The latter include laws prohibiting the import of wild caught birds and seal skins and the keeping of animals in zoos. These laws could be more vulnerable.

The use of animals in research is regulated by nine different laws covering the breeding, care and use of animals for scientific purposes; the transport of animals; the use of animals to test chemicals, biocides or plant protection products; the prohibition of the testing, marketing and import of cosmetics products testing on animals; and the cloning of animals eg. for food.

Companion animals are the least regulated.  Four laws provide rules allowing free commercial and non-commercial movement of dogs and cats provided they have been identified and vaccinated. There is also an import ban on products made from dog and cat fur.

So how many laws are covered?

Pig on grass

Thirteen of these EU laws are in the form of ‘directives’, which have already been implemented into existing UK legislation and so would need to be overturned if they are no longer required.  31 are ‘regulations and decisions’, which are applicable to the UK without national implementation.  This means that depending on how the UK exits the EU, they may be automatically deleted on UK withdrawal unless Parliament legislates for them to remain.  Alternatively, all pre-existing laws will simply be carried over for amendment on a piecemeal basis.

However, there are real opportunities to improve animal welfare.  Last year British farmers received nearly €3.5 billion in subsidies from Europe.  We can now decide how these subsidies will be spent and if they should be used to fund, for instance, animal welfare assurance schemes or farming at higher standards. There is an opportunity for the devolved administrations of the UK to do this.

There are also opportunities for the UK to agree higher standards such as mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses or prohibiting the slaughter of farm animals without stunning.

Much still remains to be agreed.  But we have already started the process of giving our recommendations to the UK government and we hope that you will join us so that, together, we can ensure nothing gets left behind and we can improve the standards we already have.

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