The subject of animal welfare and free trade has become quite topical of late with the current media obsession about chlorinated chickens. Since I know only the basics about global trade and even less about regulation for animal products there is little I can add to the subject. However I do want to write about a subject close to my heart, what I see as a excellent opportunity we now have to improve the welfare of animals in a post Brexit world.
As I will explain further in the piece, the EU is not exactly first in class when it comes to animal welfare, but then again none of us are. In terms of animal experiments, transportation and cruelty every nation on earth has made little progress. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, we are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars but before expanding on what I see as a way out of the gutter I thought it useful to explain some aspects of animal welfare under the current EU regime.
Perhaps the aspect of animal welfare I feel the most strongly about is the use of animals for experiments. I can understand the argument that one animal’s life can save thousands of humans, I accept that argument at face value, I would merely state that I believe there is no moral case for inflicting suffering on a sentient being, none whatsoever, the argument is so alien to my way of thinking in the way that I presume mine is to theirs. However the one aspect of animal testing that can quickly bring me to a hulk like rage is the use of animals for cosmetic and other household product testing. All the cosmetics that exist now have all been brought to market making use of this ‘science’, there is no further need to any more animal testing, we do not need new cosmetics and for the life of me I cannot understand why allow manufacturers to bring a constant flow of new cosmetics and other household products to market when we already have all the ones we need. Do we really need yet another ‘improved’ shampoo? No, we don’t and because we don’t we could end animal experiments in this sector quite quickly.
The latest figures show that in 2011 almost 11.5 million animals were used in experiments across Europe, only a slight decrease on 2008. France, Germany and the UK were the top 3 users of animals in experiments, in that order. The countries of the EU in 2011 reported that they used 17,896 dogs, 3,713 cats, 358,213 rabbits, 6,686 horses, 6,095 monkeys, 675,065 birds, 77,280 pigs, 28,892 sheep, 30,914 cattle, over 1,000,000 fish and over 8,500,000 rodents. Fundamental biological research accounts for 46% of the total number of experiments, while the use of animals for research and development of human and veterinary medicines only accounts for 19% of the total number used. 34% of old world monkeys are still imported from non-EU countries. France, Germany and the UK are the biggest users of monkeys, in that order. Six of the EU countries conducted a total of 977 animal tests for household products, with Denmark as the biggest tester.
Now let that number sink in, 11.5 million animals are experimented on every year.
Whilst the topic of eating meat is a debate in itself it is generally accepted that an animal should be reared and eventually slaughtered as near as possible to where it was born. It is difficult to argue for an end to all animal transportation, breeders need to get livestock to market, but given the intent here is to sell the animal, welfare would form a necessary part of the process. Long distance transportation of live stock is however particularly stressful for animals, the EU permits the transport of animals enormous distances – often to parts of the world outside of the EU such as the Middle East with lower or even non existent standards of animal welfare. There is no moral argument to transport animals thousands of miles to be slaughtered, the animal can be dispatched locally – and in the UK this means reasonably humanely and the carcass transported in refrigerated vehicles.
Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union does require member nations to consider the welfare requirements of animals but provides no legal base leaving it up to member nations to decide. This might help explain why bullfighting is still permitted in Spain.
I spend a lot of time in the country and bullfighting goes out on prime time TV – a clue to the Spanish government’s view on the matter. Toward the end of the summer most villages in Spain have a fiesta, I like to visit a particular village near Valencia. This village has the custom of setting fire to a bull’s horns for it to be then taunted and chased by the local men – who are normally fortified with alcohol (not that I am completely sober myself at the time). Since I am a guest in the village I try to join in with the festivities, but I always leave with a sense of shame that I did not speak out about the suffering of an innocent animal. I don’t enjoy it, sometimes I feel that a part of my soul has been tainted by watching the terror and bewilderment of another creature in the name of entertainment.
In fairness to the Spanish, I am pleased to relate that a growing number of the younger generation of Spaniards find bullfighting and animal cruelty in general as objectionable as the rest of us, unfortunately that does not help bulls due for la Corrida de Torros and the festivals this summer.
In a further defence of the Spaniards I am also mindful that this country does not have a very good track record in terms of organised animal cruelty, there is still a lot of evidence of a illegal dog fights. I also acknowledge that fox hunting and hare coursing have only recently been made illegal.
A bill of rights for animals
The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to implement laws protecting animals. In 1822 an Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle was passed by Parliament. I strongly believe that once we leave the EU we should once again show leadership in animal welfare and introduce the first bill of rights for animals.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 does provide a degree of protection for animals in terms of welfare but only applies to domesticated animals. I would like to see these same basic rights extended to all animals and I would go further, I would prohibit the long distance transportation of live animals to slaughter and I would abolish animal experimentation for non medical research.
Personally I like to see a complete ban on all animal experimentation but I doubt that argument can be won at the moment but I really do feel that now is the time for us to be the first to introduce a basic minimum of rights for all animals. People say what would a post Brexit world look like, my view is that it is the one we seek to create for ourselves. It is not just humans that live on these islands, we share it with other flora and fauna, if there is a dividend from Brexit, let us share it with them.