RSPCA welcome Welsh Govt stand as Australia FTA proposals could put animal welfare at risk
The charity fears zero tariff market access for agricultural products could undermine Wales' animal welfare standards by packing shelves with imports reared at much lower standards.
RSPCA Cymru has welcomed the Welsh Government's opposition to any free trade agreement (FTA) between the United Kingdom and Australia undermining the nation's animal welfare standards.
On Tuesday (18 May), the Welsh Government's economy minister Vaughan Gething, and rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths both warned against any upcoming FTA creating an unlevel playing field, or compromising Wales' animal health and welfare standards.
The intervention from the Welsh Government ministers follows media reports which suggest the UK Government and Australia could reach a trade deal which would allow mutual zero tariff market access for agricultural products.
Australia has lower legal animal welfare standards than in Wales, including utilising barren battery cages for hens, producing chlorinated chicken, the use of sow stalls that confine pregnant pigs, mutilating the rear end of sheep, sometimes without anaesthetic, and growth hormone treatment for beef.
Lower-cost production methods in Australia therefore risks flooding supermarkets in Wales with cheap, low welfare Australian imports; produced at far lower legal welfare standards than Wales' produce must meet. This could put the livelihoods of farmers in Wales at severe risk.
Polling has shown that 83 percent of the British public believe the UK should not allow imports of food that was produced at lower standards than those in the UK.
RSPCA Cymru say the timing of the FTA would be a "cruel twist" for food production and farm animal welfare standards in Wales; given the Welsh Government is expected to bring forward an Agriculture (Wales) Bill which could encourage farmers to adopt higher standards of welfare domestically.
David Bowles, the RSPCA's head of public affairs, said: "The RSPCA is very concerned that the UK Government is set to sign a quick trade deal with Australia, potentially allowing lower welfare produce to flood shelves in Wales, and undermining Wales' domestic animal welfare standards.
"We really welcome the Welsh Government's firm opposition to this potential undermining of animal welfare.
"RSPCA Cymru knows people in Wales will be horrified at the prospect of supermarket shelves being stocked with chlorinated chicken, growth hormone treated beef or produce reared in systems that would be illegal in Wales; and this would create a totally unlevel playing field for Wales' agricultural community.
"This news is a cruel twist as we consider the future of agricultural welfare standards in Wales. It comes at a time when the Welsh Government is planning to bring forward an Agriculture (Wales) Bill which could place into law the importance of higher welfare standards on Wales' farms; and opening the floodgates to lower-welfare, tariff-free Australian imports is totally contrary to that.
"While the principle of a trade deal with Australia is very welcome, this must include tariff or non-tariff safeguards to ensure only products produced to higher animal welfare standards enter the UK. This would be in keeping with a commitment from the UK Government to maintain and where possible, improve standards of animal welfare in the UK, as new FTAs are negotiated."
Trade negotiations are a reserved matter - and the RSPCA is asking its supporters to contact Members of Parliament via Twitter to tell them they do not want to see farm animal standards sacrificed for a quick trade deal.
However, the RSPCA also feels the voice of the Welsh Government and Members of the Senedd will be key in highlighting how damaging tariff-free, low welfare imports from Australia could be for animal welfare in Wales, and the agricultural community.
David added: "We look forward to working with the Welsh Government, and Members of the Senedd, to highlight that we cannot allow an FTA with Australia to undercut and undermine domestic animal welfare standards; punishing farmers and confusing consumers.
"With trade a reserved matter, we're also urging our supporters in Wales to contact their Member of Parliament via Twitter and help us make clear to the UK Government that without protection built into FTAs, we risk setting back animal welfare by decades and betraying farmers in Wales, England and indeed all across Great Britain."
More information on the RSPCA's approach to the UK's post-Brexit trade negotiations can be found online.