Farming News - New RSPCA poll reveals 75% want ban on lower welfare standard imports

New RSPCA poll reveals 75% want ban on lower welfare standard imports

25 Aug 2020
Frontdesk / Livestock

UK’s biggest animal charity launches petition pressing Government to keep its manifesto commitment as realities of American farm animal welfare are exposed.

As a new poll reveals that 75% of adults in England want the Government to honour its commitment not to lower animal welfare standards, the RSPCA has launched a petition for lower welfare imports to be banned in future trade agreements.  

Highlighting the issue, the RSPCA has exposed the realities of American farm animal welfare in a new video as the UK Government drags its feet on legal protection for welfare standards here despite the public’s wishes.

As US farm animal welfare expert Lauri Torgerson delivers a stark message to UK consumers that failure to protect our hard-won farm animal welfare improvements will risk products arriving on our supermarket shelves which are made to much lower welfare standards, the RSPCA’s petition calls on Government to keep its manifesto commitment and enshrine in law to ban such imports.

The new poll commissioned by the RSPCA conducted by Savanta ComRes reveals that 75% of adults in England agree that the Government should honour the commitment it made during the 2019 General Election to not lower animal welfare standards in trade agreements with other countries after leaving the European Union. 

In a video detailing the poor conditions suffered by many US farm animals, Farm Sanctuary Research Director Lauri Torgerson, (former Director of Research at Mercy For Animals), said: “Consumers want to know that the animals they are eating have been treated well, at least while they were alive, and we can’t say that in the United States, at all.

“Our industrial animal system is designed to benefit huge, often multinational corporations at the expense of animal welfare, farmer well-being and the earth. The UK has been a leader in animal welfare, and has a way to go still, but buying animal products from the US would dilute all the hard work that’s gone into improving all the systems there and I think the average consumer in the UK would be disappointed to know that the products they’re buying could be coming from systems in the US that don’t support the rights of animals or humans, or the earth.”

The RSPCA is calling on the Government to act now to protect the UK’s animal welfare standards.  

Chris Sherwood, RSPCA Chief Executive, said: “This video from the US gives a stark warning about what could end up on our supermarket shelves if the UK Government does not act now to legally protect our welfare standards. We know this is a concern for consumers and without clear legislation banning food produced to lower welfare standards from our shores, we risk setting back animal welfare by decades, causing the suffering of more animals to produce the food on our plates and failing to protect British farmers. 

“We urge UK shoppers to sign this petition in the hope that the Government will listen to the British public and protect our hard-won farm animal welfare.” 

UK animal welfare is vulnerable to lower standard imports from the USA because:

  • Unlike the UK, the USA has no federal laws governing animal welfare during the rearing of species such as chickens and pigs
  • Egg laying hens in the US have nearly half the space than UK hens (350 cm2 per hen compared to 750 cm2 per hen) 
  • 52% of laying hens in the UK are free range, compared to just 5% in the USA, with 74% being caged hens. Barren battery cages, which were banned in the UK in 2012, are legal in the USA
  • The UK banned sow stalls (gestation crates) in 1999, whilst the major pig producing states in the USA still use them. Sow stalls leave pigs very little space to move around in as they prevent them from even turning around. 
  • The vast majority of the 60% of pork imported to the UK currently comes from the EU, so without a deal we will lose our major supplier leaving us vulnerable to lower standard pork imports
  • Chlorine-washed chicken: Chicken carcasses are washed in chlorinated water to clean off the bacteria from sitting in this re-used litter which contains the waste of thousands of chickens from previous flocks. 
  • Beef cattle in the USA can be treated with hormones which have been banned by the EU

Lauri explained how there were no US federal laws covering chicken or turkey welfare, despite them making up the vast majority of farmed animals in the country.

She said: “Three quarters of laying hens in the USA are living in battery cage systems which are awful for animal welfare. They result in severe behavioural restrictions, hens are unable to forage, dust bathe or nest, which are all really important behaviours for a laying hen to perform.

“The vast majority of broiler chickens in the US are raised in dark, barren sheds, at very high stocking densities, on the litter (floor covering) of several flocks. Imagine living on the litter that literally hundreds of thousands of birds who have lived their lives on. The reason that the US dips chickens in chlorine is that the birds are literally sitting in each others’ waste - it allows them to kill the bacteria that is on the birds as a result of sitting in unsanitary conditions their whole lives.

“In the US, the majority of sows are still living out their lives alternating between a gestation crate and a farrowing stall. The gestation crate is not large enough for her to even turn around or lay down comfortably. There’s usually no bedding and as a result she will end up with sores on her shoulders as a result of having to lay on this slatted floor.”