UK Australia trade deal

Animal welfare threatened by UK - Australia trade deal



With many pressing issues in industrial farming, it’s vital that farm animal welfare is at the forefront of discussions to finalise a UK trade deal with Australia.

The proposed trade deal would make it easier for Australia to export cheap meat to the UK market at the expense of livestock welfare. 

Farm animal welfare issues

British farmers are legally required to meet minimum animal welfare standards to ensure farmed animals are offered some, albeit limited, protections.

These protections have made the UK a world leader in improving farming conditions and established a core set of standards to monitor and safeguard the welfare of farmed animals.

Whilst British farmers must abide by these standards, Australian farmers will not have to, allowing them to sell low welfare meat to UK consumers. This is concerning for several reasons:

  • Lower welfare standards in Australia means that Australian farmers will be able to produce cheaper meat than their British counterparts. As a result, British farmers will be unable to compete on price and consequently the demand for cheaper and poor-welfare Australian meat will increase. 
  • By importing meat from Australia, the government will be disregarding our hard-won animal protections and simply outsourcing the cruel practices we have banned to Australia.  
  • The Australia deal could set a precedent for future trade deals and lead to the suffering of even more animals. 

The sad fact is that unless the UK government speaks up and insists on the inclusion of core animal welfare standards in the trade deal, animal suffering will increase as British farmers feel forced to intensify and cut corners to compete.

Livestock management differences

Here are some examples of the differences between UK and Australian practices.

  • Mulesing (the removal of sections of skin from around the tail of a sheep, usually with no anaesthetic) is illegal in the UK. However, this cruel and barbaric practice is still legal in Australia, and it is likely that sheep imported to the UK will have been subjected to this awful procedure. 
  • CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses are mandatory in the UK, as opposed to in Australia where regulations are not consistent. This added level of protection ensures that animals are treated with respect and slaughterhouses abide by robust guidelines. 
  • The UK has strict laws on live animal transportation - currently journey times must be no longer than eight hours in ‘basic vehicles’. The Government is consulting on new laws including a ban on some live exports, improving vehicle and ship standards, and reducing maximum lengths of transportation time. While Britain can still go further, Australia does not offer this level of protection during transportation and again – the suffering of animals is disregarded from the trade conversation. 

Antibiotic resistance risks

The farming industry in Britain has made some progress in reducing the use of antibiotics on farms.

The overuse of preventative antibiotics increases the risk of superbugs developing, bacteria that have a resistance to antibiotics and, as a result, their medical use is less effective. 

Whilst we welcome the progress that has already been made by British farmers, Australian farmers have a far higher use of antibiotics, and this could force British farmers to backtrack on these voluntary measures in order to compete on price.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how important it is to reduce our use of antibiotics to prevent resistance to disease and safeguard human health. This is a global issue which requires a combined effort.

The new trade deal could have been a golden opportunity for the UK to influence new farming practices in Australia that would move away from the current overuse of antibiotics and encourage more responsible use.

Trade agreement next steps

Although the trade agreement has been signed by the UK and Australian governments, it will likely be considered by Parliament at a later date for debate and final ratification before it comes into force.

It is our hope that the government amends this deal that disregards the UK’s animal welfare and environment standards, and the sector’s voluntary commitment to reduce the use of preventative antibiotics. 

We were encouraged to hear representatives of the UK meat industry express their concerns about the devastating impact this trade deal will have on animal welfare standards at a public evidence session in Parliament.

Representatives were clear that they wanted Australia to provide the same core animal welfare values as the UK. It is imperative that the government listens to these concerns and acts upon them when considering deals with new trading partners. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset the button and put animal welfare at the forefront of new trade deals. 

Our political leaders must act to end the suffering of animals. Because when they suffer, we all suffer.

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Image credits: Blog article - Jo-Anne McArthur / Unsplash; Blog list – Mark Stoop / Unsplash

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