Australian farming standards probed before trade deal signed

Australian animal activists consulted by United Kingdom before free trade deal was signed.

UNDER SCRUTINY: Australia's farming standards were closely examined by trade experts in the UK.

An expert United Kingdom trade panel consulted with animal rights activists in Australia before the recent signing of a free trade agreement.

The panel of scientists was assembled by the government after UK farmers raised fears about a flood of imports from Australia "stealing" local markets.

The UK investigated complaints about the different farming standards used in Australia to produce meat, fibre and grains more cheaply than home-grown product.

In particular the UK farmers highlighted differing animal welfare standards which were accepted practice in Australia, such as mulesing of sheep, hot branding of cattle and even some chemicals used on crops.

The Australian government was in February accused of rushing the ratification of the UK free trade agreement which critics said could lock in potential unintended consequences.

That independent UK panel produced a report published last week called Trade and Agriculture Commission: advice to the Secretary of State for International Trade on the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

In the report, it was revealed the expert panel had consulted with many people in Australia about local farming practices.

One of those was former RSPCA senior policy officer Dr Jed Goodfellow, who has helped form a breakaway animal rights group called Australian Alliance for Animals.

The panel also consulted with Dr Bidda Jones, the former RSCPA chief scientific officer, who is also part of the new alliance.

The UK's National Farmers Union has already criticised the deal struck with Australia, saying its government "missed an opportunity" to reach a world class agreement.

Farmers have frequently raised concerns over Australian food imports they say are produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards.

While the TAC's report confirms the FTA will not result in a change in UK production standards, it details the market will open up to Australian produce whether or not produced to the same standards.

The report said: "The FTA is likely to lead to increased imports of products that have been produced at lower cost by using pesticides in Australia that would not be permitted in the UK."

NFU president Minette Batters called on their government to work with farmers to "develop a set of core environmental and animal welfare standards which it can seek to safeguard through future free trade deals".

The trade panel responded to concerns about Australian farming practices from UK farmers and those people it consulted with.

Are Australian cattle hot branded in a manner that is not permitted in the UK?

Hot branding farm animals is banned in the UK while there are animal welfare guidelines governing hot brands in Australia where ear tags are more widely used. The panel said the trade agreement "does not restrict" the UK's rights to prohibit imports of products from Australia produced using the practice of hot branding.

Do Australian cattle and sheep spend longer in transport and have less space than in the UK?

The panel found there was a low risk meat from stock which has travelled much longer times than would be permitted in the UK will be imported into the UK in increased quantities under the FTA.

Does mulesing of sheep without pain relief, a practice prohibited in the UK, occur in Australia?

Yes. This is a practice (with or without pain relief) that is prohibited in the UK but permitted in Australia. Imports of wool from mulesed sheep much more likely than mutton or lamb.

Australian livestock transport from paddock to plate came under investigation.

The panel said the trade agreement "does not restrict" the UK's rights to prohibit imports of products from Australia produced using the practice of mulesing without pain relief "and may even enhance these rights".

Other topics explored by the panel included stunning and provision of CCTV in Australian abattoirs, the operation of Australian feedlots and other pain relief usage in Australian agroculture.

Concerns were also raised about Australian agricultural production being more emission-intensive than UK.

There were also questions about continued deforestation of farming land in Australia

The panel said Australia has been reforesting rather than deforesting but "it could not be excluded that in some cases deforested land is used to produce agricultural products which will be imported in greater quantities into the UK, such as beef and cereals".

The UK government has said the FTA deal with Australia would unlock $A18 billion of additional trade while eliminating tariffs on all UK exports.

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