The UK's high farm animal welfare standards could drop after Brexit because of its "overwhelming reliance" on EU nationals working as veterinarians, a cross-party group of peers said on Tuesday 25 July.
The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment sub-committee, chaired by Liberal Democrat Lord Teverson, urged the government to make sure the industry is able to retain or recruit qualified staff to fill those roles following the UK's split from the EU in 2019.
"The UK has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world and UK producers are rightly proud of those. We see no reason why Brexit should diminish those, as long as the government is aware of the challenges ahead and acts accordingly," Lord Teverson said.
"We heard overwhelming support for farm animal welfare standards to be maintained or improved. To help achieve that, we urge the government to secure the inclusion of high farm animal welfare standards in any free trade agreements it negotiates after Brexit.
"Whilst Brexit provides the UK with the unique opportunity to review and potentially improve farm animal welfare standards, the government will need to consider the effect of increasing standards on the competitiveness of UK producers as well the future trading relationship with the EU."
Gudrun Ravetz, the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), told the peers that more than 90% of the group's official veterinarians (in private practice) are non-UK EU 27 nationals.
"Without non-UK EU vets, there may not be enough appropriately qualified vets to meet workforce needs which would have a significant effect on animal health and welfare, public health and trade," he added.
The report, which also warned against a "race to the bottom" in welfare standards, came as International Trade Secretary Liam Fox visited the US. Donald Trump has said that he expects a free trade agreement to be brokered "very quickly" after the UK splits from the EU, with trade between the countries already worth around £150bn a year.
Fox, speaking after co-chairing the first meeting of UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, said: "It is a testament to the political will in both countries that this Working Group is meeting just a month after Ambassador Lighthizer and I discussed it in June.
"This will be our forum to strengthen the bilateral trade and investment relationship and deepen the already extensive economic ties between the UK and US.
"The immediate priority is to give businesses on both sides of the Atlantic certainty and confidence. Early discussions will focus on providing commercial continuity for US and UK businesses as the UK leaves the EU."
Fox also claimed that the British media were "obsessed" with chlorinated chicken, a product which could be coming to UK shops if food standards are lowered.