Brexit is fiendishly complicated and frankly quite boring to most people - the news is full of speculation, stalled negotiations, the pros and cons of being in or out of the Customs Union, and cliff edges. To Defra, however, who control around 70% of the Brexit legislation, £3 billion of farm subsidies, and are responsible for most of the UK’s animal welfare laws, it presents a golden opportunity to show the public that it can, and will, deliver on some important animal welfare issues. It is no accident that the only two animal welfare improvements listed in the Government’s manifesto - live exports of farm animals, and better control of England’s abattoirs - are those issues that achieved the greatest social media attention during the Referendum. Both are Brexit opportunities and both resonate with, and are hugely supported by, the public.
So in World Athletics Championship week, Defra have fired the starting gun and led out of the starting blocks with an initial announcement on its proposals to bring in mandatory CCTV in all approved slaughterhouses in England - following the usual consultation. This indicates where the first medal can be gained from Brexit. Why is this a Brexit issue? Because the same department, when asked a few years back if they would bring in mandatory CCTV, said they couldn’t because it wasn’t expressly allowed under the EU Regulation!
The FSA figures two years ago revealed that the use of CCTV was growing and covered 70% of poultry and 49% of red meat slaughterhouses. Whilst this may cover the vast majority of animals slaughtered, as most retailers and many assurance schemes, such as RSPCA Assured, demand CCTV, this has left behind the abattoirs that are not covered by retailer or assurance scheme contracts and it is there that we need improvements most.
This policy announcement is good for welfare, good for enforcement, good for the abattoirs and popular with the public. No wonder it is one of the first Government manifesto commitments that is being delivered.
It’s good for welfare, as hundreds of millions of farm animals are slaughtered in England each year. As sentient beings, with the capacity to experience fear, pain and distress, these animals deserve a humane end to their lives.
It’s good for enforcement, as the Food Standards Authority data in 2016 showed over 9,500 breaches of animal welfare legislation at slaughter of which nearly 4,500 were severe. Having mandatory CCTV is clearly key to helping reduce this number.
It’s good for the slaughterhouses, as footage can be used to train and monitor slaughterhouse staff, as well as provide security against malicious complaints of malpractice. It is also financially viable - when RSPCA assured introduced it in 2012 it was adopted across the board with no abattoirs leaving the scheme.
And, it’s good for the public who should be able to have confidence that all farmed animals are being continuously monitored at the time of slaughter, at a time when the animals are vulnerable and where there are significant risks to welfare involved.
When Michael Gove gave his keynote speech last month on how he wanted to take those new opportunities that Brexit offered, mandatory CCTV was perhaps the most straightforward one to take. Undoubtedly there will be much harder decisions to make in the next 18 months concerning farm support, agricultural labour, and protecting our animal welfare standards when negotiating trade agreements with countries that have no legislation. But CCTV is easy for the public to understand and so, as a first step along the Brexit track, the RSPCA will celebrate the adoption of these proposals as the first gold medal for farm animals.
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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