The EU referendum is a topic of hot debate at the moment, with inter-party fighting and the general public at a loss to decide ‘what is really best for me?’. But, who is thinking about animal welfare and our natural world in all of this?
George Eustice, the minister for Agriculture said that ‘animal welfare would be better if Britain was not having to obey by EU standards’, suggesting that Britain could compensate farmers to provide better welfare for animals by using the funds which would have been drained by the EU. But, do we have a guarantee of this? No. He later conceded that there was no guarantee that this would be a sustainable option for the government, meaning welfare standards would rapidly fall again.
So what exactly has the EU ever done for the UK to protect animals and the environment? Well, quite a lot actually!
Some of the biggest acts of the EU to improve animal welfare across the whole of Europe were the fights against cosmetic testing on animals, banning hens in confined battery cages and pigs in restricted sow stalls in 2012 and targeting people illegally trading in endangered species and their products.
In addition, the EU has sought for greater welfare and care for animals in transit in and out of the EU. The use of great apes in animal testing has also been stopped as a result of European law as well as a ban on the sale of any cosmetic products that have been tested on animals. Shouldn’t we be proud of these great achievements? There is a risk however, that leaving the EU could reverse all this.
Last year saw the launch of Operation Cobra III – an international collaboration between Europol, Border Force and the UK’s recently saved National Wildlife Crime Unit, alongside various international agencies. This investigation resulted in over 1200 illegally traded items being seized, some still alive – a great result for wildlife with over 200 criminals being brought to justice – but would this ever have happened without the strength of the EU behind it? Just last week the EU action plan was launched setting out 32 specific measures to crack down on wildlife trafficking. The illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illegal trade in the world – worth an estimated £14 billion a year. Without cross-country collaborations and huge financial support from the EU – do we really have a chance at tackling wildlife crime at this level?
People are perhaps unaware that the EU now has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Although, the UK has been a true pioneer to some of the efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade or improve animal welfare standards across Europe, its vital that we try to influence as many other countries as possible to follow in our footsteps. At the end of the day, don’t we all just want to make the world a better place for animals?