Cheap food imports produced to lower animal welfare standards could put UK farmers at a competitive disadvantage after Brexit, warns a House of Lords committee.
The warning is contained in a farm animal welfare report published by the House of Lords EU energy and environment sub-committee.
The government’s wish for the UK to be a global leader in free trade is not necessarily compatible with its desire to maintain high animal welfare standards, says the document.
Demand for high-welfare products is ultimately driven by whether consumers prioritise purchasing those products, at added cost, rather than buying cheaper, lower-welfare products, it adds.
The report comes hot on the heels of reports of a rift between government ministers over whether the UK should accept imports of chlorine-washed chicken to secure a US trade deal.
The committee found consumers are not always aware of the difference between production systems – or willing to pay a higher price for premium-welfare products.
Challenge to UK’s competitveness
This could exacerbate the challenge to UK farmers’ competitiveness arising from a potential increase in cheaper imports produced to lower welfare standards, it says.
Committee chairman Lord Teverson said: “The UK has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world and UK producers are rightly proud of those.
“We see no reason why Brexit should diminish those – as long as the government is aware of the challenges ahead and acts accordingly.”
Opening up the UK market to free global trade raised a number of issues, said Lord Teverson.
“The government may find it hard to reconcile its free-trade ambitions with its commendable desire for preserving high farm animal welfare standards.
“We heard overwhelming support for farm animal welfare standards to be maintained or improved.
“To help achieve that, we urge the government to secure the inclusion of high farm animal welfare standards in any free-trade agreements it negotiates after Brexit.”