I have long campaigned on animal welfare: an issue close to my heart and to many of yours. I know that from the number of emails and letters I receive on the subject. So it's shocking to see evidence that leaving the EU will have a very negative impact on animal welfare.
Under current EU law, animals are recognised as sentient beings, acknowledging their ability to feel pain, to suffer and to experience joy. Because of this, full regard has to be given to animals when creating new legislation or regulations. This was adopted in 1997 and has since been the cornerstone of European animal welfare legislation.
Outside the EU, these laws will no longer apply. The EU Withdrawal Bill, which is being debated in Westminster now, will give powers to the UK government to decide how European law is incorporated into UK law. In its current form, it does not include that vital section which recognises animals as sentient beings. This would mean that there would be no obligation for the UK Government to take animal welfare fully into account when drafting new laws.
This has the potential to undo many years of hard work and campaigning by many of you to get strong legislation. There are other implications for animal welfare too.
In 2001, I was responsible for the legislation on pet passports, which has been a huge success in the EU, allowing people to travel with dogs, cats, and ferrets across borders. The pet passport is a veterinary document that gives proof that the animal has been vaccinated, meaning it doesn’t have to be placed in quarantine. Without this agreement, people will not be able to take their pets with them when they travel.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) published a study this week warning how the UK’s exit from the EU will increase recruitment problems for the veterinary profession. Around half of the vets registering in the UK are graduates from the rest of the EU. If there are no effective immigration measures in place on leaving the EU, the numbers would decline, leaving a large gap in the veterinary workforce. So we could have a shortage of vets to care for pets, farm and other animals, as well as those working in abattoirs who have a vital role in preventing animal suffering.
We have heard warnings already of how future trade deals could lower food standards. EU standards currently protect us from eating chicken that has been washed in chlorine, for instance, which has a high bacterial content related to low animal welfare standards.
I want to ensure that Wales has the best in terms of animal welfare standards. For this reason, and many more, it is vital that all powers which are the responsibility of the National Assembly actually are in the Assembly's hands after the Withdrawal Bill passes - if it does. There is growing opposition to it as more damaging information on leaving the EU comes to light.