What Brexit means for animal rights

On June 23, 2016, England votes on whether to remain in the European Union. But what consequences would Brexit have for non-human animals?

brexit animal rights

What does the Brexit mean for animal rights? If you are taking animal rights into account when you cast your vote, which side fares better? It’s not an easy question to answer, but I hope this will provide you with some more information going into the vote.

What the EU has done for animal welfare

The European Union is responsible for extending farm animal welfare legislation to the UK (such as the end of battery cages for hens in 2012, and sow stalls in 2013. This article in the Guardian argues convincingly that farm animal rights are likely to either stagnate or reverse course under the current government.

The European Union has also placed bans on using animals to test cosmetics, and animal testing on great apes.

The EU has also worked extensively to prevent trafficking in wildlife, something that Great Britain would have a difficult time tackling without outside support.

Having the weight of the largest economic union in the world behind Britain’s efforts to stem wildlife trafficking is no small thing. Alone, the UK would have fewer resources available and would be unable to work in concert with European agencies with such ease.

Why a Brexit might be better for the animals

The wheels of justice within the European Union turn slowly, and the size of the agencies do hinder rapid progress, particularly when it comes to animal rights.

Over 40% of the European Union’s budget is devoted to agriculture, or  Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

As is the case in many large bureaucracies, CAP has led to massive farming subsidies and encourages intensive farming practices that endanger wildlife and deplete natural resources.

While overall EU policy is generally progressive, and encourages legislation to protect the environment, they seem hindered at every turn by their own Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

It’s important to note that a Brexit is unlikely to end farming subsidies. UK Farming minister George Eustace has already agreed to provide an alternative to these subsidies following Britain’s exit, so little would change on that front, at least initially.

Nevertheless, many British farmers oppose Brexit because they fear losing subsidies.

It really depends on appetite for change

Are the rights of groups like children and animals your chief concern when you cast your vote for or against the Brexit? If so, you need to honestly look at the British government and compare their track record to that of the European Union in terms of sweeping human and animal rights legislation. I believe the greatest indication of how animal rights will move forward is by tracking the growth of other social justice movements.

When it comes to gay rights, only 10 out of the 28 states in the European Union recognize gay marriage, something I find wholly unacceptable. On the other hand, same-sex marriage was not accepted in Great Britain until 2014. It’s rather stunning to me that it took the UK so long to change these laws, and I’m afraid it means that they probably are pretty much on par with the EU as a whole when it comes to social justice issues.

Ultimately, if you are a UK voter who cares about non-human animals, this vote will boil down to whether you have more faith in the EU or Great Britain.

Both groups have far from spotless records on rights for human or non-human animals.

No easy answer

If you believe the UK will be more progressive without the EU holding it back (debatable, especially since a large part of the Brexit argument revolves around less regulation), then Brexit is the way to go. If, on the other hand, you believe that the EU will foster greater changes, then it would make sense to vote to stay in the EU.

I don’t see an easy answer in this situation. As an outsider, I’m inclined to believe that staying in the broader economic Union is important for strengthening the relationships between european countries. But that’s about as far as I can go.

4 Responses to “What Brexit means for animal rights

  • Wow, great article! I didn’t know much at all about Brexit or what that might do for animal rights. I’m eager to see the outcome. Thanks for always being such a great source of thoughtful information.

    • Thank you so much, Mary Ellen! Honestly, I’m really grateful that someone asked me about it, because it hadn’t really occurred to me, either. I did learn a lot while doing research for this – I think I may be writing more about farm subsidies in the future 😉

  • This is such an interesting point of view… I’m always amazed at the type of information you put out! Personally, as a European I hope Great Britain remains in the Community.

    • Thank you so much, Francesca! I know what you mean – I hope the UK remains in the EU as well, but I must admit the research I did for this made me a lot more sceptical of the EU.

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