Take foxhunting for instance. A significant number of MPs, almost all from the Conservative Party think it is just a nice little tradition that enhances animal welfare by removing a pest. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is, I believe, true that foxhunting can be a nice tradition in which people ride out together on an organised trail hunt. It can also be a horrible tradition that means people ride chaotically across other people's land in hot pursuit of a kill that they will smear across children's faces. Hunting foxes this way has nothing to do with helping farmers. It is actually a great nuisance to farmers as it scares livestock and risks damaging fences. Nor does it help in any significant way with pest control. Riders have every right to enjoy a tradition in an organised way that does no harm to others and the current act fully permits them to do it. I am therefore strongly opposed to repealing the current law on foxhunting. Indeed there are aspects of it which could benefit from being strengthened.
Then let's consider the much bigger issue of the welfare of farm animals reared in the UK or imported into the UK. The EU has established reasonably strong animal welfare standards which apply across the whole of Europe. As soon as we leave the EU we lose that protection. It is, of course, possible to come out of the EU and either stick to or indeed strengthen those standards so that we can continue to trade across Europe. It is not possible to strike new free trade with counties like Donald Trump's America and protect animal welfare.
Let me explain what I mean. There are large ranches in parts of America where cattle are kept inside in conditions that resemble battery farms for chickens. The cows never come out of their stall and never see the fresh air. They have to be drenched with antibiotics as a result of the over-crowding. With all the long term health risks for many species including our own that this entails. The result is very cheap meat and milk. Strike a free trade deal with American and we will have to import these products which will undercut UK farmers. They will then have a choice. Go bankrupt or use similar methods. Very few British farmers want to do that because they care about their livestock. We will, however, not be able to protect them because our import rules will be overseen not by the EU (which with all its weaknesses has significant elements of democratic control). The rules will be overseen by a trade commission consisting of lawyers and unelected business representatives. The unelected bodies overseeing new trade deals will be able to over-ride decisions of a British government. So much for all that stuff about getting our sovereignty back.
One final point. A subject that is dear to my heart. I am a beekeeper. Honeybees and bumblebees are both weakened by exposure to neonicitinoids. These are chemicals which are introduced to the seed and then penetrate the entire structure of the growing plant including the pollen. When the plant dies the chemicals don't go away they wash into hedgerows and can achieve greater levels of concentration. Exposure to high levels of neonicitinoids kills insects outright. Exposure to what are called field levels don't. But they have been proved to weaken the navigation systems of bees and that reduces the number making it back to the nest. For this reason the EU has banned neonicitinoids whilst more testing is carried out. The chemical companies have lobbied the UK hard to remove that ban and the UK has voted against that ban frequently. As soon as we are out of the EU I fear that this ban will be lifted. In or out of the EU it would be extraordinarily reckless to do this. We simply do not know the impact of neonicitinoids on every pollinating species but we do know that without insect pollinators we will be in real trouble.
So for me the situation is simple. If you want high standards of animal welfare the most likely way to get them is to stay in the EU or, at the very least, to sign up to a commitment to maintaining EU regulations on animal welfare as a minimum.
The Green Party and the Liberal Democrats are standing in this election on a platform of insisting that we see the real deal on issues like this before we vote again on whether we wish to leave. If you don't want the future of animal welfare to be decided by a Conservative Party that wants a free vote on returning to aggressive foxhunting then you know what to do when it is time to vote. We cannot trust UK animal welfare standards to be determined without any electoral checks and balances in whatever way the far right of the UKIP/Conservative alliance decides.