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Trade Deals: Animal Welfare

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 5 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will safeguard animal welfare and environmental standards in negotiating trade deals with respect to livestock products.

My Lords, as set out in our manifesto, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in our trade negotiations. The Government’s Agriculture Bill sets out our plans to reward farmers for enhancing our natural environment and for safeguarding the nation’s high welfare standards. We will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure that any future trade deals uphold the standards that farmers and consumers across the UK expect.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer and I welcome him to the Front Bench. I do not doubt the sincerity of Her Majesty’s Government’s assurances, but there is widespread—and, I would suggest, justifiable—concern that our own livestock industry could be out-competed by imports of cheap livestock products from animals reared to poorer welfare and environmental standards. This might mean cheaper food, but it would be at a global cost to animal welfare and the environment and at some risk to our own indigenous livestock enterprise. Will the Government enshrine in UK law their manifesto commitment to require that imports of livestock products meet our high animal welfare and environmental standards?

The UK, as the noble Lord points out, has world-leading environmental and animal welfare standards, and that will not change. They are backed up in legislation and, even more importantly, are backed by both producers and consumers right across the land. There is no value to anyone in imposing high standards here on our own producers if we then allow low-standard imports of those same products. We would merely be undermining our farmers while exporting cruelty elsewhere.

My Lords, I declare my interests in animal welfare matters as set out in the register. I take the view that it is an abomination that live animals should be transported very long distances, particularly to the continent but even here within the UK. Can my noble friend assure me that this will not be allowed to continue when we have new rules upon this subject?

I thank my noble friend for her question. I very much share her concern about and views on the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter. The manifesto commitment on which this Government were elected could not have been clearer on this issue. We are committed, through that manifesto, to taking steps to end the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter. We will consult on the issue shortly; all noble Lords will be able to take part in that consultation and I encourage them to do so.

My Lords, how does the Minister reconcile the future for exports of our agricultural goods—whether animals or other agricultural products—and sustainability when we are probably closing our opportunities to export to our near neighbours and will be looking much further away? How do you handle both sustainability and animal welfare in those circumstances?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I have committed my life to the issue of sustainability and am proud of what we have achieved over the last 10 years. I am excited about what we will achieve in the coming years—partially as a consequence of our leaving the European Union, the issue that the noble Baroness raises. We will be able to do things now that we have left the European Union that we could not do as a member. For example, we can scrap the common agricultural policy, as we are intending to do, and replace it with a new system whereby those payments are directly conditional on the delivery of public goods such as environmental sustainability and animal welfare standards.

My Lords, as the Government are negotiating trade deals with the USA, in particular, for meat, dairy products and eggs, which are generally produced to much lower animal welfare standards than those produced here, we must insist on the inclusion of a clause permitting the UK to require imports to meet our animal welfare standards. If this is not possible, would the Minister consider imposing tariffs on imports that do not conform to UK welfare standards and which are sufficiently high to safeguard our farmers?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I agree with her premise: we certainly do not want to find ourselves importing egg products which fall below the standards we impose on our own producers. This Government have made that commitment and there are a number of different ways in which it can be achieved. She mentioned a ban and tariffs. I am afraid it will not be for me in my portfolio to determine which of those options we choose, but our commitment is absolute. We will not allow our producers to be penalised by high standards in the UK, only to be undercut by imports that do not meet those standards. That would be neither right nor fair.

My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer as set out in the register. Could the Minister explain the recent remarks by the Prime Minister at the UK-Africa Investment Summit welcoming Ugandan beef into this country without attaching any conditions relating to standards of production, traceability and welfare at slaughter, despite all the verbal and manifesto pledges given by Ministers?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. The Prime Minister was not saying anything new: Ugandan beef already has tariff-free access to our market. As a less-developed country, Uganda has duty-free and quota-free access for all products, with the exception of arms and ammunition. However, there are currently no imports of Ugandan beef because it does not meet the standards applied on imports into the European Union or the standards that will be required now that we have left the European Union. The situation therefore remains exactly the same.

I welcome the Minister to his Front-Bench duties and declare my interests in a farming enterprise as recorded in the register. Regarding fair competition for farmers and consumer confidence for the public, equivalence of standards will be a difficult area in trade Bills. During the recent Trade Bill in the last Parliament, amendments ensured the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection of welfare and environmental standards. Can the Minister confirm that this is now a way forward for government policy and that such necessary provisions will be contained in the various Bills and regulations that will need to be re-enacted?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I will make two points. First, the Government are committed to introducing a new sentience clause—a much debated issue in the last Parliament. That is not simply a case of translating an EU principle into UK law; when translated it will go much further. It will not have the exemptions, and it will not only apply to a few narrow sectors but will cross the entire decision-making process of government. Secondly, our Environment Bill, which was introduced in the other place just a few days ago, is in and of itself, because of what it contains, a non-regression Bill—a non- regression commitment that will require the Government legally to build on the standards we are proud of, but which we would all like to see improved.