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CEFAW Briefing on the Agriculture Bill

A Christian Case for Farmed Animal Welfare

About this briefing

Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare (CEFAW) is a three-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in partnership with major UK churches and other organizations including Compassion in World Farming. The 2019–21 Agriculture Bill is a crucial opportunity to determine the future direction of UK farmed animal welfare. This briefing summarizes relevant findings from the project and identifies areas in which we consider the Bill could usefully be amended. The two-page briefing is followed by detailed supporting material.

Briefing outline

  • Why UK farmed animal welfare is a faith issue
  • Why UK farmed animal welfare standards need protection
  • Rewarding farmers for higher animal welfare
  • Labelling as to farming method
  • Using public procurement to promote UK farmed animal welfare
  • Ending live animal exports for slaughter or fattening
  • Additional resources

Why UK farmed animal welfare is a faith issue

Christianity is often considered as indifferent to or even a threat to animal welfare. This is a historical mistake because Christians led the way in advocating for the first legal protections for farmed animals in Britain in the early 19th century. Christians believe that God is the creator of all creatures, providing for them and desiring their flourishing. This divine care should be understood to apply to every farmed fish, chicken, pig, sheep, and cow. Humans are responsible to God for their care of animals and should respect them as fellow creatures of God. Farmed animals are not merely means to human ends: they should be raised in ways that enable their flourishing and give them lives worth living. Good farmers recognize that their flourishing depends on enabling the flourishing of the animals in their care.

Other religions also recognize the duty of care for fellow creatures, and secular groups have led many recent campaigns for animal protection. Christians have faith-based reasons to make common cause with all those seeking to ensure the good treatment of farmed animals. (For more detail, see Additional resources: 1. Farmed animal welfare as a faith issue.)

Why UK farmed animal welfare standards need protection

Britain’s exit from the EU means that it has to decide whether it will maintain its current farmed animal welfare standards, make further improvements to them, or weaken them. US trade negotiators want the UK to lower its farmed animal welfare standards so the US can export animal products produced to much lower welfare standards: chickens are subjected to higher stocking densities, laying hens can be kept in battery cages, sows are confined in gestation crates, and many cattle spend their lives on vast bare feedlots. US producers use growth hormones to increase dairy yields and growth rates in pigs and cattle, and chlorine washing to compensate for inadequate farm hygiene.  Antibiotic usage is up to 16 times as greater than in the UK. Without explicit provision in the Agriculture Bill to ensure that all imports meet current UK standards on food safety, animal welfare, and the environment, there is a serious risk that trade deals will undermine UK standards, and UK farmers will either be driven out of business by low-quality imports or will be forced to seek ways to lower welfare standards to compete. (George Eustice made this case convincingly in 2019: see Additional resources: 2. The threat to UK farmed animal welfare standards.)

Rewarding farmers for higher animal welfare

The “public” goods section of the Bill (Part 1, Chapter 1) provides an opportunity to offer financial rewards to farmers for improvements in animal welfare, but does not specify any detail. CEFAW project findings identify the importance of going beyond preventing animal suffering to ensure all farmed animals have meaningful opportunities to choose positive experiences. The Bill should specify that payments to farmers ensure genuinely high levels of animal welfare by providing that payments be made only to farms that meet particular welfare criteria. (For more detail, see Additional resources: 3. Rewarding farmers for higher animal welfare.)

Welfare labelling

Giving consumers information about how farmed animals have been treated is a crucial means of improving farmed animal welfare. EU requirements on egg-labelling has led to a significant shift away from cage eggs, but consumers are in the dark about meat, fish, and milk. In 2018, the Commons EFRA Committee twice recommended that the Government introduce mandatory method of production labelling. The Bill only enables the Secretary of State to make labelling regulations: it should require the Secretary of State to do so. (For more detail, see Additional resources: 4. Welfare labelling.)

Using public procurement to promote UK farmed animal welfare

The legal recognition of animal sentience is likely to require cross-governmental consideration of the animal welfare implications of policies and practices There is a major opportunity to improve farmed animal welfare through requiring the procurement strategy of public sector bodies to “promote the highest standards of animal welfare”.  (For more detail, see Additional resources: 5. Using public procurement to promote farmed animal welfare

Ending live animal exports for slaughter or fattening

In 2018 20,000 sheep were exported from Britain for slaughter in continental Europe and 5,150 calves were exported from Scotland to Spain. Long periods of transport are stressful for animals and can result in great suffering. The Bill should ban live exports for slaughter or fattening except across the Irish border. (For more detail, see Additional resources: 6. Ending live animal exports for slaughter or fattening.)

June 2020

CEFAW is happy to respond to queries relating to this briefing.

Principal Investigator: Professor David Clough, University of Chester

Correspondence: [email protected] Website: https://www1.chester.ac.uk/cefaw


Additional resources

  1. Farmed animal welfare as a faith issue
  2. The threat to UK farmed animal welfare standards
  3. Rewarding farmers for higher animal welfare
  4. Welfare labelling
  5. Using public procurement to promote farmed animal welfare
  6. Ending live animal exports for slaughter or fattening

1. Farmed animal welfare as a faith issue

The history of Christian campaigning for farmed animal welfare

“In the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century, Christians played a key role in putting animal welfare on the moral, social, legal, and political agendas by founding what became the RSPCA. They were motivated by earlier theological accounts of the Christian significance of animals and by the belief that Christian faith should inform the way society was ordered. The latter informed Christian campaigns on other social issues in the same period, such as for the abolition of the slave trade. First, the 1822 Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act empowered magistrates to fine anyone found to have beaten, abused, or mistreated cattle or sheep, and if they could not pay, or refused to pay, to imprison them. The support of clergy and evangelical MPs helped pass this and other legislation while evangelicalism’s political power was reaching its height in the 1830s and 1840s. In 1824, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) [later the RSPCA] came into being. Among the Society’s founding members were three Anglican clergy, including the Revd Arthur Broome, who became the Society’s first chair. Five of the ten founder members of an allied organization—the Association for Promoting Rational Humanity towards the Animal Creation (APRHAC)—were also clergy, with Anglicans predominating.” (Adam, M. B., Clough, D. L., & Grumett, D. (2020). ‘A Christian Case for Farmed Animal Welfare’. Animals, 9, pp. 6–7.)

The Christian basis for concern about farmed animal welfare

“Christians have strong faith-based reasons to be concerned about the ability of fellow animal creatures to glorify God through their flourishing. Christians have a particular and weighty responsibility towards the large numbers of animals raised for food, because their lives are entirely in human hands. Many farmed animals in Britain are currently farmed in systems that do not enable them to flourish; others enjoy flourishing lives. Christians have reason to attend to how current practice in relation to the farming of animals is at odds with their faith commitments, and rethink their practice in response.

Christian belief in God’s care for every creature requires an approach to farmed animal welfare based on the flourishing of farmed animals. Christian concern for farmed animal flourishing goes beyond narrower interpretations of farmed animal welfare focused only on avoiding pain, disease, and distress. Farmed animals praise God by fully living out their particular abilities, activities, relationships, and characteristics. Their flourishing is threatened when they are subjected to impoverished environments and painful mutilations, deprived of social and familial relationships, killed after severely shortened lives, and selectively bred to prioritize productivity over welfare.

A Christian approach to the ethics of farmed animal welfare must attend to the complexity of animal farming, including its multiple connections with the welfare of humans, wild animals, and the environment. The flourishing of farmers, stockpersons, other farmworkers, and rural communities has a strong connection with the degree to which farmed animals experience flourishing lives. Most of those working with farmed animals want to do their best for the animals in their care, but they cannot do so unless they are rewarded appropriately for enabling the flourishing of farmed animals.”

(From the draft CEFAW Policy Framework for Churches and Christian Organizations, forthcoming Autumn 2020.)

2. The threat to UK farmed animal welfare standards

US imports of animal products raise the following issues:

  • Dairy products from cows treated with growth hormone bovine somatotropin (BST) – prohibited in the UK and EU on animal welfare grounds
  • Egg products from hens kept in battery cages – illegal in the UK and EU
  • Pork from herds where sows are confined in sow stalls – banned in the UK
  • Ractopamine-treated pork – prohibited in the UK and EU on animal welfare grounds
  • Hormone-treated beef – prohibited in the UK and EU
  • Chlorine-washed chicken – prohibited in the UK and EU
  • Meat with high levels of antibiotics – up to 16 times greater than in the UK

In a 2019 article, “The UK can’t accept backward US food standards – or chlorinated chicken,” George Eustice made a convincing case about the importance of maintaining UK standards of farmed animal welfare in the context of trade negotiations with the US:

“If Americans want to be granted privileged access to the UK market, they will have to learn to abide by British law and British standards, or kiss goodbye to any trade deal and join the back of the queue.

The UK and the US have been on a different journey when it comes to food standards in recent decades. In the UK, we have built one of the most sophisticated and discerning markets for food anywhere in the world. Consumers have become more informed and show more interest in the provenance of their food and how it is produced. The British retail sector has contributed to building a strong brand around provenance and standards. Regulators have also made sure that we strive for the highest standards of animal welfare and food safety in the world.

Agriculture in the US remains quite backward in many respects. It retains a position of resisting more information on labels to limit consumer knowledge and engagement. Its livestock sectors often suffer from poor husbandry, which leads to more prevalence of disease and a greater reliance on antibiotics. Whereas we have a farm to fork approach to managing disease and contamination risk throughout the supply chain through good husbandry, the US is more inclined to simply treat contamination of its meat at the end with a chlorine or similar wash.

However, the greatest difference between the British and US systems of farming is their attitudes to animal welfare. The UK has legally recognised the sentience of farm animals since 1875 when the first regulations were introduced to govern slaughterhouses. Since then we have introduced the Animals Act of 1911, tougher slaughterhouse regulations in 1933 and then a series of other improvements culminating in the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. We have some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world and we have driven improvements in other European countries that have traditionally lagged behind.

In the US, legislation on animal welfare is woefully deficient. There are some regulations governing slaughterhouses but they are not as comprehensive. As far as on-farm welfare legislation is concerned, there is virtually nothing at all at a federal level and only weak and patchy animal welfare regulations at a state level predominantly in the West Coast states. There is a general resistance to even acknowledging the existence of sentience in farm animals which is quite extraordinary. 

The Conservative party had a manifesto commitment to promote British values on animal welfare through any future trade deals we might strike. A modern trade deal is not simply about commerce, it is also about values. There is currently a cross-party consensus that we should enshrine the recognition of animal sentience in statute to underpin all our existing policies and inform new ones. One option might be to suggest that the US introduce a similar piece of legislation at federal level to drive the modernisation of its own laws. We could even send British advisers to Washington to help them do it as part of our trade negotiations.

The international trade secretary, Liam Fox, understandably wants to talk about opportunities for new industries such as services or digital but, in the court of public opinion, if the choice is between the commercial interests of banks or the welfare of chickens, the chickens will win every time. The sound of clucking chickens will never be far from the negotiating table, tugging at our consciences so we might as well get used to it. Unless we deliver on our manifesto commitment, we will give free trade a bad name. We should use the power of the UK to project British values of kindness and compassion in any future trade deals.”

(George Eustice, “The UK can’t accept backward US food standards – or chlorinated chicken,” Guardian, 6th March 2019)

3. Rewarding farmers for higher animal welfare

While the UK has much better farmed animal welfare standards than the US, there is still a great deal of room for improvement, particularly in ensuring farmed animals have good lives that are worth living. To make improvements, it is important to move beyond merely focusing on negative freedoms to providing environments in which farmed animals can express normal behaviours and have a meaningful choice of positive experiences.

“In the UK farming industry, animal welfare standards (which inform standards in other countries) often list the basic freedoms to which all farmed animals are entitled negatively: freedom from hunger or thirst; from discomfort; from pain, injury or disease; and from fear and distress. This requirement to satisfy negative freedoms aims to ensure that positive experiences outweigh negative experiences over the course of a lifetime. Policies that promote negative freedoms provide some protection and offer some possibilities for improved welfare, especially when enforced with adequate support for farmers. Provisions for negative freedoms contribute to farmed animal flourishing and should be upheld throughout farming systems. The positive freedom to express normal behaviour also informs welfare standards. Although provisions for normal behaviour vary between species, they are likely to include access to outdoor space and pasture, access to sufficient maternal care, the chance to grow to maturity, opportunities for social interaction and companionship, appropriate materials for bathing and grooming, opportunities for making choices, and environments that facilitate play. Farmed animals each need their appropriate negative and positive freedoms, with sufficient nurture and support to fulfil their complete range of capacities and to live a good life.” (Draft CEFAW Policy Framework for Churches and Christian Organizations, forthcoming Autumn 2020.)

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC, now renamed the Animal Welfare Committee) states: “Achievement of a life worth living requires provision of an animal’s needs and certain wants … Wants are those resources that an animal may not need to survive or to avoid developing abnormal behaviour, but nevertheless improve its quality of life.” (Farm Animal Welfare Council, 2009. Farm Animal Welfare in Great Britain: Past, Present and Future).

To ensure that financial assistance is supporting genuinely high levels of animal welfare, the Bill should provide that payments may only be made in respect of farms that:

  • enable animals to engage in their natural behaviours as identified by scientific research
  • comply with animal welfare legislation
  • in the case of dairy cows, keep their animals at pasture during the grass-growing season
  • do not perform routine mutilations
  • do not kill calves at, or shortly after, birth except when a veterinary surgeon certifies this is necessary due to the calf’s poor health
  • do not export animals for slaughter or fattening.

4. Welfare labelling

It is essential that consumers be fully informed about the food that they are consuming. Current food labelling under EU regulations is not sufficient. We recommend that the Government improve country of origin labelling following the UK’s departure from the EU. We also recommend that the Government introduce mandatory method of production labelling.” (House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, February 2018. Brexit: trade in food, para. 133)

“We reiterate our previous recommendation that the Government improves country of origin labelling following the UK’s departure from the EU and introduces mandatory method of production labelling.” (House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, February 2018. The future of food, farming and the environment, para. 106 and recommendation 16)

5. Using public procurement to promote farmed animal welfare

Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering include animal welfare considerations, but only require meat, milk and eggs to have been produced to legislative minimum standards. Public sector bodies should use their buying power to augment the market for food produced to high nutritional, environmental and animal welfare standards. 

The Bill should include a provision akin to section 15(5)(c)(ii) of the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 which requires the procurement strategy of public bodies to “promote the highest standards of animal welfare.”

6. Ending live animal exports for slaughter or fattening

Live export of farmed animals from the UK often subjects them to long and stressful journeys. Britain’s departure from the EU means that current differences in practice in relation to welfare at slaughter are likely to widen as regulatory standards diverge. In 2016 12 million chickens, 51,000 sheep, 29,000 cattle, and 1,700 pigs were exported live from the UK to the EU, excluding the Republic of Ireland (FAWC. (2019). Opinion on the Welfare of Animals during Transport). Scottish Government figures show that 5771 cattle were exported live from Scotland to Spain in 2018, a journey length of 65 hours. An FOI request by CiWF revealed that this included 5,150 calves, and that 20,000 sheep were exported live to continental Europe in 2018.

To avoid the suffering imposed on animals through this export practice, the Bill should prohibit live exports for slaughter or fattening from the end of the transition period of leaving the EU (1st January 2021), except for genuine cross-border movements from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, provided that the animals involved are not re-exported from the Republic.

Beyond the live export ban, consideration should be given to avoiding long transport times for farmed animals within the UK.

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