An Independent UK can lead the world on animal rights



If the Conservative Party is able to come out of the Brexit situation in tact, a political renaissance will be necessary. The general public will be crying out for an entirely fresh, new politics. This will entail significant reform: greater grassroots power and broader participation in political parties, strengthened systems for the accountability of our legislators, better candidate selection, consideration of increased moves towards direct democracy and a fresh look at the issues which unite us and are truly relevant for the 21st century. In relation to the latter, there are particular opportunities if we have managed to regain our status as a sovereign nation and are able to govern our own affairs.

An issue which has been disappointingly overlooked is that of animal welfare. Concern about animal welfare cuts across all class, ethnic, gender and age barriers because the one thing that unites us is our instinctive, compassionate and humane response to the suffering of any other living thing. We are a nation of animal-lovers and in increasingly busy and technology-driven day to day life, our relationship with animals acts as an important way to find peace and mental detoxification.

In light of this, most of us are operating with a degree of cognitive dissonance. In the age of internet-based information sharing, no-one is unaware of the implications of our commoditisation of animals. As Bentham famously declared: “The question is not ‘can they reason?’ nor, ‘can they talk?’, but rather it is ‘can they suffer?’”

We know and understand animals are sentient, yet as a society we seem to have been powerless to prevent their use on an industrial scale as though they were automatons.

In the UK, nearly 40% of laying hens are still caged and 53% of pigs are subjected to the use of farrowing crates which place severe restriction on a sow’s movement.

Presently, thousands of animals are transported through the ports of the South East. After a 2012 incident in which 45 sheep died on a vehicle going through Ramsgate, the High Court ruled that, on the grounds of freedom of movement within the EU and existing UK legislation, the port could not ban live animal exports. Numerous investigations have revealed significant animal suffering on long, hot journeys to eventual destinations in Europe.

According to the British Veterinary Association in a 2015 survey, 64% of UK vets chose welfare at slaughter or pre-stunning as a top priority for government. In addition to this, the BVA states that 9 out of 10 vets believe consumers should be better informed about slaughter methods. The BVA’s formal position is that all animals should be stunned before slaughter.

Vets and meat hygiene inspectors working for the Food Standards Agency inside abattoirs reported a total of 9,511 animal welfare breaches between July 2014 and June 2016. A total of 4,455, or an average of six a day constituted category 4 breaches – the most serious category meaning animals were subjected to “avoidable pain, distress or suffering”. A single breach can involve hundreds of animals.

According to the charity Viva!, 25% of pigs – more than 2m a year – in Britain are stunned with CO2. Compassion in World Farming states that CO₂ is “far from ‘humane’” and causes numerous issues including “breathlessness as well as immense burning pain”.

Factory farming and the industrial use of animals sits uncomfortably with most of us, as proven by people warmly embracing the concept of free range food and meat-free lifestyles.

People (the younger generation in particular) are increasingly empowered to take positive action whether that is making changes to their consumer habits or raising awareness of important issues.

Sadly, ownership of this issue is being seized by illiberal, sanctimonious left-wingers dominated by urban voices who have little sympathy and understanding of agriculture and the importance of our rural life and culture. Therefore the Conservative Party ought to be best placed to lead on this issue in a pragmatic and responsible way. We are on the the cusp of a revolution in thinking on the ethics of our treatment of animals and we ought to be at the forefront.

We have the opportunity to radically remodel our agriculture subsidy scheme, heavily incentivising activity to the point where we become a world leader in environmental and welfare standards.

We could creatively use trade liberalisation or protection (the dropping or raising of tariffs and other barriers) to encourage the import of meat and animal product that conforms to our welfare standards.

We need to think seriously about how we might bring an end to caging of animals in agriculture for which there is no humane justification.

We could immediately end live animal export if we were to properly exit from the European Union and we need to look at reducing journey times for animals travelling to slaughter. There should be a proper review about how to improve industrial slaughter and a ban of non-stun slaughter. Serious consideration should be given to banning the sale of foie gras and fur in this country.

There is absolutely no reason why honest and transparent labelling in relation to method of production and slaughter ought not to be immediately legislated for.

Many of these things cannot be achieved unless we secure a clean exit from the European Union.

If we can regain our status as a self-governing nation, Brexit offers a wealth of opportunities to make a big difference. The Conservative Party should grasp these opportunities.

Molly Giles is a Barrister. Follow her on twitter: @mollygiles2015