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Diary of a parliamentary intern

Abstract

Parliamentary intern Gabriella Laing says the unseasonal weather reflects the turbulence of activities in Westminster this month.

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Brexit continues to dominate parliamentary business, with the EU Withdrawal Bill now in the House of Lords for a first round of scrutinising and amendment.

Before last week’s agreement with the EU over a transition period that will see the UK retain access to the single market and be able to agree (but not immediately implement) trade deals with other countries, there was a risk that the UK would have had to enter a period of trading governed by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

WTO rules are an agreed set of trade rules that aim to ensure fair-trading and establish biosecurity measures between the 164 member countries. They protect against discriminatory trade by forbidding any country from setting import standards that favour its own domestic market … unless it can be considered to be for the ‘public good’.

A ‘public good’ (as far as I understand it) is a commodity or service which is available to everyone, such as defence, clean air or street cleaning, for example.

Speaking at the recent NFU conference, the environment secretary Michael Gove said that as animal welfare is considered a public good, the UK could reward farmers for having high standards.

Lord Trees’ recent question to the chamber raised the issue of the legality of making demands for certain animal welfare standards for imported products to help protect domestic producers from cheaper, lower-welfare imports. This is especially important in light of challenge from the USA to the EU for refusing to import chlorinated chicken.

As unfamiliar as some of the trade policy discussions have felt, this month the Veterinary Policy Research Foundation’s focus returned to non-stun slaughter. Following Lord Trees’ question on the recent increase in number of animals slaughtered without having been pre-stunned, the all-party group for animal welfare (APGAW) held a special session on labelling of animal products to discuss including the method of production and slaughter.

It was widely agreed that more transparent labelling was the right direction to take, but that any proposals needed to be fair to all. From here, APGAW will look at options for what measures or methods should be included on the labels with a focus on welfare outcomes rather than just inputs.

To avoid simply shifting the problems elsewhere, and, with one in four adults eating out each week, it was felt that processed foods and restaurant meals also needed similar labelling.

Given the difficulties the UK faces in legislating to protect animal welfare in trade deals, it is reassuring that we are making progress on other fronts, by allowing consumers to dictate what standard of animal welfare they want with transparency in shops and restaurants.

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