Animal welfare ‘at risk’ from post-Brexit trade deal with US, warns conservation charity WWF

The world’s largest conservation organisation has warned of an ‘unedifying race to the bottom’ in food standards if British farmers are forced to compete with inferior foreign imports.

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF-UK) has thrown its support behind The Mail on Sunday’s campaign to safeguard welfare and environmental methods in the post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

Chief executive Tanya Steele said failing to ban low-standard imports would result in the ‘driving down of environmental standards, the decimation of our farming community and our natural environment’.

WWF have warned of the horrors of ‘industrial scale mega farms’ in the US, where there are ‘sheds filled with tens of thousands of pigs, cows and sheep crammed together in poor conditions’ (file photo)

She added: ‘In opening our borders to imports without legal protection to ensure they don’t undermine our personal higher environmental standards, we’d contribute to environmental and health conditions overseas and force British farmers to create a terrible choice.

‘Namely, to compete in an unedifying race to the bottom or go out of business.’ There are fears that the united kingdom could be flooded with mass-produced chlorine-washed chicken and beef pumped filled with hormones.

Both methods are rife in the US but have been barred for decades in the EU.

Environment Secretary George Eustice has previously called animal welfare law in america ‘woefully deficient’ and Ministers have again and again said they’re not going to undermine current standards in virtually any trade deals.

The WWF-UK has added its voice for this newspaper’s Save Our Family Farms campaign, with Ms Steele warning about the horrors of ‘industrial scale mega farms’.

She highlighted the fact that in america there are ‘vast sheds filled with thousands of pigs, cows and sheep crammed together in poor conditions and raised to make cheap meat at incredible quantities, using methods and in conditions which we don’t currently allow in the UK’.

One pig farm in Missouri, she said, has permission to house 79,488 animals – which makes it around 346 per cent bigger than the biggest pig farm in britain.

‘Currently, we have protections that stop UK farms from becoming so large they cause environmental damage from air, water and land pollution.

Chief executive Tanya Steele (above) said a failure to ban low-standard imports in a post-Brexit trade deal with the US would lead to the 'driving down of environmental standards'

Chief executive Tanya Steele (above) said a failure to ban low-standard imports in a post-Brexit trade deal with the united states would result in the ‘driving down of environmental standards’

‘But if we allow… a flood of cheap, intensively produced, hormone-treated meat from the US, the only path our farmers could compete on price is to vastly increase their production – leading to the creation of our own mega farms. This would mean either abandoning basic environmental and welfare standards, or keeping our protections in place, which will then price British farmers out.’

A petition launched by the National Farmers’ Union and backed by The Mail on Sunday to demand that food be produced to world-leading standards has to date attracted several million signatures.

The WWF-UK can be running a Don’t Trade Our Planet campaign, which calls on the Government to enshrine in law a commitment to importing foods that do perhaps not rely on unsustainable farming, the destruction of nature and animals being kept in disease-ridden conditions.

Ms Steele added: ‘Ultimately, if our farmers can’t compete, they will lose their livelihoods and have to market up – leaving only the biggest corporate farms with animals kept indoors and fed on imported soy able to operate in the UK.

‘It would destroy the landscapes which were nurtured by farming families for generations.’

You can find the petition by clicking here

Forcing our farmers in the home to compete with inexpensive imports by increasing intensive production will mean dire consequences for British wildlife habitats and for the health, says WWF-UK leader Tanya Steele 

In the final four months, as our lives have now been lived mostly indoors and normality has paused, we now have found moments of enjoyment in the straightforward things.

We are finding ourselves reconnecting with the character around us, and watched as nature has reclaimed a few of our spaces while we’ve been absent. We have learned to value its importance inside our lives, and several of us have talked of the need to store that as life returns to whatever ‘normal’ means.

The roots of the pandemic have shone a light in route we are necessarily connected with nature, and that what goes on on one side of the planet can devastate lives on the other.

And yet as the country rebuilds from the ravages of this health crisis while also attempting to forge its independent path in the world, the decisions we make could affect our natural environment for quite some time to come.

Brexit implies that we will be shaping our own trade policy and trade deals for the very first time in 50 years – and we now have a choice to create about whether those deals will celebrate and safeguard nature, or contribute to its destruction.

Brexit means that we will be shaping our own trade policy and trade deals for the first time in 50 years – and we have a choice to make about whether those deals will celebrate and safeguard nature, or contribute to its destruction (file photo)

Brexit means that i will be shaping our personal trade policy and trade deals for the first time in 50 years – and we have a selection to make about whether those deals will celebrate and safeguard nature, or donate to its destruction (file photo) 

The Government is right now attempting to strike a trade deal with the united states that would, in line with the Department for International Trade’s own assessment, only save yourself the average UK household no more than around £8 a year. The deal would, at most, result in a 0.16% escalation in our GDP over the next fifteen years. To put that in context, a UK business contributing £100,000 to the economy each year may hope to note that increase by £160 by 2035.

But this meagre benefit is far outstripped by the vast potential cost – the driving down of environmental standards, the decimation of our farming community, and our environment both only at home and in fragile ecosystems overseas driven ever closer to the brink.

In opening our borders to imports without legal protection to make sure they do not undermine our own higher environmental standards, we adding to environmental and health problems overseas and we’re forcing British farmers to create a terrible choice. To compete, in an unedifying race to the bottom, or go out of business.

In parts of the united states, industrial scale megafarms have now been a breeding ground for diseases. Vast sheds filled with thousands of pigs, cows and sheep crammed together in poor conditions and raised to make cheap meat at incredible quantities, using methods and in conditions we don’t currently allow in the UK.

The largest megafarm in america is an 800 square acre beef farm, bigger than the City of London. One pig farm in Missouri has permission to house 79,488 pigs – that’s around 346% larger than the greatest pig farm in the UK. It’s a breathtaking scale – Old Trafford holds 74,879 people.

The by-products from these megafarms, the giant piles of manure from thousands of animals, have to go somewhere. So places like North Carolina have become home to vast stinking pits and lagoons of animal manure, blighting the landscape and putting the health of a few of the area’s poorest communities in danger.

Right now there are protections in position that stop UK farms from becoming so large they cause environmental damage from air, water and land pollution.

But if we allow the import of a flood of cheap, intensively produced, hormone-treated meat from the US, the only path our farmers could compete on price is to vastly increase their production – our very own megafarms. In order for these to exist we would need certainly to abandon basic environmental and welfare standards, or keep our protections in place, that will then price British farmers out.

In a country how big is the UK, dealing with environmentally friendly impacts of industrial scale farming out of sight and smell of human habitation will be a tall order. Huge industrial farms packed with animals could sprout ever nearer to our towns and villages, bringing with them the danger of air and water contamination that is well documented across the Atlantic. 

One pig farm in Missouri has permission to house 79,488 pigs – that's around 346% larger than the biggest pig farm in the UK (file photo)

One pig farm in Missouri has permission to accommodate 79,488 pigs – that’s around 346% bigger than the biggest pig farm in britain (file photo)

Our natural environment and our wildlife in the UK have been the victims of changing farming techniques over the years, and the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries on earth. Mass industrialisation of farming over the past century wiped out most of the wildflowers whose seeds certainly are a vital food source for species already in terminal decline, from turtle doves to tree sparrows. Our hedgehog numbers have plummeted by half since 2000 as we have lost hedgerows to intensive farming.

We’re turning that around. British farmers have been increasingly focused on transforming their farming methods with smarter, cleaner, high-welfare methods that make them true custodians of our iconic landscapes. And with Brexit, we could finally eliminate Common Agricultural Policy and instead precisely reward our farmers for protecting our precious countryside and restoring nature.

Throwing all that away for £8 a year will be a very bad deal.

Forcing our farmers in the home to compete with inexpensive imports by increasing intensive production will mean dire consequences for the British wildlife habitats and for our health.

We understand that the roots of pandemics like Covid-19 lie in humanity’s destruction of habitats and intensification of farming, which is driving humans and wildlife closer together and creating the right storm for the next worldwide health crisis. Over the final 30 years, between 60 and 70 % of new diseases in humans had animal origin, and land conversion for farming has caused 70 per cent of planetary biodiversity loss. Today, soy and beef farming are driving the destruction of the Amazon rainforest at an ever-increasing rate.

Ultimately if our farmers can’t compete, they will lose their livelihoods and have to market up – leaving only the biggest corporate farms with animals kept indoors and fed on imported soy able to operate in the UK. It would destroy the landscapes that have been nurtured by farming families for generations.

It’s been nearly fifty years because the UK was in charge of an unique trade deals and agricultural policies. As we find our own path, let’s say no to a race to the underside that puts our health and the environment at risk.

It’s great that the Government has promised that it won’t give away our high standards and our world in trade deals – but that’s a political promise, susceptible to breaking under great pressure in what we know will probably be some tough negotiations. Our farmers, our world and our future generations need better protections.

We require a legal requirement that these products we import must meet our high environmental standards. That would protect the standard and safety of our food, help our farming community to survive and thrive, and help us protect our natural world.

There are laws going through Parliament right now that may put that in place. We must say no to products and practices which are already driving the destruction of nature elsewhere, and that if allowed in would wreck our rural communities and our countryside.

That’s why WWF is running the Don’t Trade Our Planet campaign, to exhibit the Government that British consumers don’t want food on their plates or goods on their shelves that have contributed to environmental destruction overseas, and that don’t meet our own high standards.

Join us and tell Liz Truss and Number 10 that individuals don’t want trade deals that wreck our countryside, that threaten our green and pleasant land in the home, or that put the near future health of our planet at risk. 

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