Study reveals impact of EU animal welfare policies on UK

The government has published a report on the impact that EU policies on animal welfare and food safety are having on the UK.

The report is the first published under the European Union Balance of Competences Review, which is examining the impact that membership of the EU has on UK national interests. It was developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and draws on evidence submitted by non-governmental organisations, businesses, MPs and other interested parties.

Pointing out that the EU is the biggest market for UK agricultural exports, accounting for 69% of total export value, the report concluded that “the internal [EU] market produced real benefits for the UK”.

However, it raised concerns over animal disease legislation, stating that civil society organisations had called for “increased flexibility in EU legislation” for the control of animal disease to allow individual member states to take national circumstances into account.

Although respondents saw a co-ordinated approach to animal disease control as positive, they felt that “harmonisation at EU level was not always the best approach” and could impede UK action, it said.

On animal welfare, the report stated that respondents were split on whether the UK should continue to take the lead on setting high welfare standards. While several civil society repsondents argued that it should, industry representatives raised concerns that doing so could put UK producers at a competitive disadvantage, the report said.

It added that the UK’s ability to compete had also been affected by some EU member states implementing, interpreting or enforcing EU laws differently.

All respondents called for animal health, welfare and food law to be risk-based. However, the report stated while some felt that EU risk assessment was “generally science-based”, there were concerns among others that “some risk management decisions on animal health, welfare and food law had been disproportionate”.

Looking to the future, the report said that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the US and the EU would create opportunities for the UK, but could also further complicate issues “concerning the balance of national and EU competences”.