Brexit – chlorinated chickens or a chance to improve animal welfare?

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.

Animal experiments
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.
Every year.

Animal Transportation

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.

Animal cruelty

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.


Brexit – the Sisiphus of democracy

It is over a year now since the referendum on membership of the EU. After many decades of frustration with our membership of a supranational body I was finally given an opportunity for my voice to be heard. 17.5 million people voted to leave the EU, I was one of them.

One year on and I have not known one single day where it feels like the democratic will of the people will be carried out by Parliament. One year on and still our will is constantly frustrated – our wish to decide for ourselves mocked and sneered at by a supercilious middle class, the legitimacy of our democratic mandate constantly undermined by the fake hysteria of the BBC and large sections of the elite media. One year on we have had another General Election where 85% of the electorate voted for parties that made a manifesto commitment to leave the EU. Yet still powerful elements are committed to thwarting the wishes of the people.

Whether you voted Leave or Remain the past year provides an insight into how our Parliament operates. Think of the position in reverse, not a single party had a mandate by way of a manifesto commitment or the validation of a referendum to sign the Maastricht Treaty or the Lisbon Treaty despite in the case of Lisbon a referendum being promised by all three main parties. Barely a word of protest was heard in Parliament, barely a peep from the elite media as these treaties handed more and more of our country away from our democratic control to a foreign unaccountable bureaucracy. No Gina Miller and crowdfunded legal challenges, no procedural trench warfare in Westminster to thwart the transfer, no acknowledgement that Parliament had no mandate to do any of this.

Now consider what happens when you do obtain a mandate, the Conservatives under David Cameron won an unexpected majority in the Commons in the 2015 General Election, the Conservative manifesto promised a straight in / out referendum on EU membership. Parliament passed the required procedures to allow the referendum to take place in 2017. For unexplained reasons David Cameron made the vote advisory rather than binding, however if this was a ruse it was neutralised soon after when the Government used tax payer’s money sending a booklet to every household to set out the case to remain in the EU and stating quite clearly the Government would act on their wishes.

Setting the merits of Brexit aside, the leave campaign won the referendum, for two weeks after the BBC and irresponsible politicians whipped up hysteria across the nation in what I felt was an attempt to sow the seeds of social unrest. It was deeply irresponsible, I was only too aware that many EU nationals felt unwelcome in the country, their discomfort was amplified by the BBC and their spiteful caricature of Brexit supporters as the UK branch of the Ku Klux Klan. Legal and procedural challenges followed both in the courts and Parliament itself. It became all about stopping Brexit and de-legitimising the vote – the mood music being that since it was mainly the working classes that voted to leave they were too stupid and too uneducated to be taken seriously and their votes were somehow lesser than the educated middle classes.

More recently we have had a further general election, both main parties made commitments in their manifesto to implement the will of the people. Once more this commitment faces constant legal challenges, the BBC pushing a daily narrative that somehow there is something wrong with carrying out the democratic wishes of the people and that there is something virtuous and noble in those who believe the EU should just be forced on people by their self appointed superiors.

So what is the lesson from all of this? Well for me it is quite clear, we have a political system that can pretty much do as it likes provided it is not mentioned in a manifesto or is the outcome of a referendum but woe betide anyone who does seek a plebiscite, you will find yourself enduring the fate of a political Sisyphus, doomed to pushing the rock of democracy up a hill only to see it cast down each and every time by a sneering elite who think only their votes should be counted.

I have long felt the EU is anti democratic, and it was for reasons of democracy that I campaigned to leave the EU. One year on and all of my fears remain, it no longer feels I live in a democracy, it feels like there is some secret, hidden Government that is in control of my country, one that is desperately trying to maintain the veneer of democracy and conceal the true nature of the Potemkin’s village that we seem to live in.

Defining Terms

Independent Britain

One of the odder characteristics of what is called the Brexit debate is the tendency of people to adopt alternative definitions for familiar terms.

The sui generis example must surely be Mrs May’s circular, “Brexit means Brexit”, which, taken seriously, can only mean, “Brexit means what I tell you it means”.

Picking up that particular baton and running with it, several politicians and journalists have taken to saying that, “hard Brexit” means Brexit but “soft Brexit” means Remain. When is a Brexit not a Brexit? There is a joke in there somewhere.

So, instead of discussing the various important issues relating to Britain’s future relationship with the EU and EU Member States (not to mention the rest of the world), politicians, journalists and academics seem to be more interested in divining the Platonic ideal of the one true Brexit.

That is precisely what the Flexcit plan attempts to avoid. In…

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