Animal welfare is one of those issues which refuses to be confined to within the borders of one nation state. By that I mean that if you care about animals, as I do, it really doesn’t matter whether they live in the UK or in the Ukraine, in Scotland or in Nova Scotia.
The fight for the respectful and humane treatment of animals is a global one, so only transnational solutions can be effective.
By working together at the EU level we can ensure that barbaric practices are stamped out in a common area of 500 million people rather than just within the boundaries of our small island. Thus, EU legislation such as the ban on cosmetic product testing on animals (in force since 2004) has a much greater effect. Likewise, the EU laws on cloning animals for food, which the European Parliament voted on in 2015, covers a much larger area, potentially saving thousands more animals from degrading treatment.
Of course, this argument can be taken to the next level. Animals beyond Europe’s shores also require our help. Whilst the EU’s laws obviously have no direct effect beyond our borders, they also apply to imports. Therefore cosmetic products made elsewhere and then shipped to Europe have to abide by our stringent rules, which has an important effect on production methods in outside countries. In addition, anyone wanting to import meat into the European Union must abide by our high standards, including on the treatment of farm animals, if they want to have access to our market.
A major success in recent years for the EU has been the ban on the sale of seal products - including meat and fur - within its 28 member countries. In Canada, the site of the world’s largest seal cull, the Humane Society International estimate that since 2009 two million seals have been saved from being clubbed to death or shot and left to bleed to death because of the plummeting European demand.
Of course, this is on top of existing legislation which bans the sale of whale meat and associated products in the EU. Whaling has been in the news recently, used as an example by the leave campaign of an area where the EU stops the UK enforcing stricter laws on the transit of whale meat through its ports. But does being in the EU really weaken our attempts to cut out illegal whaling? As the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society point out, the UK already has similar legislation allowing such products to transit through its ports. Furthermore, even if it were to amend it, this wouldn’t stop whale meat being transported. The truth is that the UK doesn’t have a big whale problem, but other member states, like Denmark (and their territories in the Faroe Islands and Greenland) do. A strong anti-whaling country like the UK can have much more influence over the global trade in whale products through influencing Denmark from the inside, not standing on the outside shouting.
Furthermore, through our proposed trade agreement with Japan, we have the economic leverage to demand an end to what the Japanese call ‘scientific whaling’ - essentially a fraud to get around international laws on commercial whaling. This is something that relies on the economic clout of being in the biggest trade bloc in the world. Britain on its own would never be able to have that kind of influence over Japan.
Looking forward it is clear work still needs to be done: on cruel sports like bullfighting; on the torturous process involved in foie gras production; on pushing for the rights of farm animals to have a decent standard of living and much more. However, each of these issues is best tackled by working closely with our partners and magnifying Britain’s global influence through our membership of the EU.