Signing a trade agreement with the US would prevent the UK from ever improving its animal welfare rules, according to a leading charity.
Peter Stevenson, chief policy advisor at Compassion in World Farming, made the remarks when he was giving evidence to the International Trade Select Committee about a possible US-UK deal.
He told MPs it was standard practice for the US to demand ‘regulatory coherence’ from countries it signed free trade agreements with.
Regulatory coherence requires all parties involved in a trade deal to bring their rules on the environment, food safety and animal welfare closer together.
“This is going to be really difficult”, Mr Stevenson said.
“The US has almost no regulations to protect the welfare of animals, whereas the UK has very detailed legislation on the welfare of pigs, calves, meat chickens, egg-laying hens and on the welfare of animals during transport and slaughter.
“In the US, you have a federal law which does require stunning of animals at slaughter, but disgracefully excludes poultry.
“It then has no other detail, whereas we have huge amounts of detail in our welfare at slaughter law.”
Other areas where the US has very little legal protection for animals include transport and on-farm welfare.
There are no federal rules which cover animal treatment on-farm, though six states have banned battery cages and nine have banned narrow sow stalls.
“There is an utter absurdity at the idea we should have regulatory coherence with a country which has almost no regulations”, Mr Stevenson said.
“If this goes through, it will make it almost impossible for the UK to ever have good new welfare laws, and we might see the US pressing us to dilute our existing laws in the name of regulatory coherence.”
Defra Secretary Michael Gove has repeatedly said the UK will not lower its standards to get a trade deal.
Speaking to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in September, he said: “If we were to undermine the high reputation British agriculture has earned by seeming to compromise on our standards, we would be tarnishing the brand.
“I think that would be counterproductive economically, as well as the wrong thing in its own terms.”