When an American professor says the US learns from the UK on animal welfare, and urges British farmers ‘not to give up what we have’, it’s time to listen and reassess any future trade deal, says BVA president Simon Doherty.
‘UK farming: is welfare good enough?’ That was the question up for debate at this year’s discussion forum hosted by the Animal Welfare Foundation.
Speaking to a full house of vets and animal welfare experts in the heart of Westminster, Professor David Main of the Royal Agricultural University presented the case for the motion, which was opposed by Professor Jim Reynolds of Western University of health sciences in California.
Taking place during the week of the US presidential visit, it was no surprise that US/UK trade deals were referred to during the debate.
This arguably became a dominant theme, particularly within the Q&A session and was one which both speakers spoke passionately about.
Professor Reynolds explained the American system had changed over the years from a supply management system to a commodity-based system, meaning the profit margins were low, leading the US to ‘look desperately to export low value products’.
He went on to say that generally, US animal welfare programmes ‘come from here (the UK) to us’.
His closing remarks during the Q&A session struck a chord with me.
He spoke frankly about a US-UK trade deal, saying, ‘If you’re asking advice from an American on farm economics, it is ‘don’t give up what you have.’
BVA has responded to consultations from the National Trade Committee (NTC) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) about a US-UK trade deal, and on both occasions, voiced serious concerns and stated firmly that the UK should prioritise the health and welfare of farmed animals in any negotiations.
Hearing an eminent American professor of large animal medicine begin his talk by joking he had been given the hard task of speaking out against UK animal welfare standards felt both encouraging and unfortunate in its affirmation of what we already know.
Professor Main pushed for ‘Animal Welfare is GREAT’ to be the basis of our campaign for future trade deals, and pondered on whether existing high expectations from UK consumers could help change standards of production of goods entering the country via trade deals.
Although Professor Reynolds appeared to agree in principle, saying, ‘Keep your high-welfare, high-value products because that is something we can attain to’, both speakers remained reluctant to speak out in favour of UK-US trade negotiations.
Overall, the UK’s high animal welfare standards were praised by both.
Professor Main highlighted the UK’s high consumer expectations and applauded our industry for its world-leading farm assurance schemes.
He concluded that certainly the UK wanted to continue to be a world leader in high farm animal health and welfare, but suggested we could be more ambitious, citing New Zealand’s ‘Dairy Tomorrow’ as a viable benchmark of what we could work towards.
Professor Main also said industry needed to have a greater link with their customers due to the growing tendency for them to think about both the health and welfare and mental well-being of animals.
Listening to Professor Reynolds explain there is no federal law for farm animal welfare, rather legislation set out by individual states depending on their views (which does not include much of the mid-west where farming is so prominent), really drove home the need to push back against any trade deal which undermines UK farming standards and creates a race to the bottom.
Simon can be found tweeting at @simondocvet
BVA is proud to work closely with the Animal Welfare Foundation who host what has become one of the successful animal welfare events of the veterinary calendar, the AWF Discussion Forum.