Brexit for non-humans

Written by Isabel Barber, OULC member and former Membership Officer.

Wilbur-Pig interviews Bullseye, Chief Whippet for the Opposition, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Member of Poultry for County Durham, Blue-Cow, Supporter of the Green-Grass-Grazing Party, Elmer, Tusk-Manager in the Department for International Trunks, Peter, Resident of 10 Watership Downing Street, and Cleo-Cod, Department of Environment, Fish and River Affairs. Recorded and broadcast by The New Statesmouse Podcast.

Wilbur-Pig: Today we’re discussing the potential impact of Brexit for individuals who identify as non-human species. Firstly, Jemima, could you outline the main concerns leaving the EU has raised within your constituency?

Jemima Puddle-Duck: Yes, what individuals feel threatened by is major legislative roll-backs which will undermine our already limited status. After all, around 80% of the UK’s animal welfare legislation is tied up in the EU. In particular, the Tories’ removal of the sentience clause under Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty has caused alarm. If non-human animals cannot be recognised as sentient beings within the law, cases of animal cruelty can be more readily justified and the consideration of their suffering made negligible, threatening both my domestic and wild constituents.

Wilbur-Pig: Bullseye, could you weigh in for us? Bullseye: Largely I agree; however, Brexit could be an opportunity to redraft Article 13 and strengthen the case for animal sentience.

Jemima: Yes, but under the Tories there’s little promise of this.

Bullseye: Granted, but under a Labour government changes regarding sentience needn’t be intrinsically negative. We must also remember the government’s statement of intent last December promising to, and I quote, “enshrine the principle of sentience in UK law, and to increase maximum penalties for animal cruelty offences.” Sentience will likely be forgotten in the wake of Brexit, and the emphasis should remain on pressuring the government to ensure its survival.

Wilbur-Pig: Now within the government, Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since June of 2017, is an interesting case. It would seem he’s in agreement with you, Bullseye, and has indeed stated his ambition that in Brexit he will “make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.” Cleo, you’re smirking?

Cleo-Cod: I mean it hardly needs repeating that Gove is a complete and utter pollock. The Tory government has had countless opportunities to improve non-human animal welfare legislation before Brexit was ever on the table. If these measures weren’t pursued when the EU was in no shape or form hindering progress, who’s to believe Brexit is going to provide the answer now? This is a party issue; it was Labour that passed the 2004 Hunting Act; it was Labour who introduced the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. Although support has been shown from both sides to implement mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses, what have the Tories done in comparison to Labour to merit our confidence? Peter: I do think though that even if pledges aren’t honoured, it’s not what we’re gaining but the protections we’re losing which present the greatest threat. If we establish a stronger partnership with the U.S., we’re entering a market that, in comparison to Europe, has abysmal animal welfare standards and regulations.

Wilbur-Pig: Blue do you care to weigh in?

Blue-Cow: Yes, once the three billion EU subsidies are removed, Brexit could most certainly mean the import of chlorine chickens and the sale of animal products which have been pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones in battery cages and sow stalls. It’s the human species which is going to take a hit. While here in the UK, 1 in 66 humans will encounter food poisoning each year, in the U.S., the figure is 1 in 6 – ten times as likely, and I’m not a bit surprised. But can I also say that, as an abolitionist, I do see there are pitfalls and predicaments in championing higher ‘standards’. Stating we have methods of ‘humane slaughter’ and legislating animal agriculture from a welfare perspective poses the danger of normalising the killing of particular non-human animals. We need to remember that our end goal is the abolition of animal slaughter and exploitation.

Wilbur-Pig: Here, here. Important point well made. I must ask, Blue, do you see any reason for optimism under improved welfare legislation? Surely some opportunities are a step even towards abolitionism?

Blue-Cow: Perhaps, but I fear it’s limited. Proposed changes regarding the transport of EU livestock exports must be prioritised. Currently, there are minimum EU requirements which ensure adequate space, water and rest must be granted to the individuals in transit. In reality, these are dire but what’s important is that within the EU, Britain cannot ban the live export of non-human animals. Leaving the EU will grant us this opportunity and help regulate the general movement of ‘animal property’. I know cows who are hoping a ban on live exports will at least spare them some misery before they meet their end. But again what hope is there for this? It comes down to the party in power. Take another issue: the ban on the ivory trade While Labour supported the ban on the ivory trade and the use of wild animals in circuses, the Tories have feigned enthusiasm and backtracked twice.

Wilbur-Pig: Jemima, would you care to provide some concluding thoughts? Jemima: It’s difficult to see Brexit as an opportunity which will benefit non-human animals unless Labour are the ones calling the shots within legislative change. I refer back to Blue’s mention of live exports; this very September, the Tories have again backtracked on their proposed ban to the trade. We’re at great risk of being undermined and unless an impetus on Brexit as an opportunity for reform is fought for, extreme cases of animal cruelty and instances of substandard welfare could be on the rise as Tory promises aren’t honoured and new U.S. markets emerge. For the abolitionists among us this is not enough and, Brexit or no Brexit, our best hopes remain not with the EU but with key individuals within Labour.

Wilbur-Pig: Thank you Jemima, thank you all.

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