National Anti-vivisection Society


National Antivisection Society

What does Brexit mean for animals?

Posted: 24 April 2018. Updated: 7 September 2019


On 23 June 2016, a referendum on whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union took place, on which 51.9% voted to leave. The process of the UK leaving the EU officially commenced on 29 March 2017 with the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which gave both the UK and the EU two years from that time to negotiate the terms of separation.

The UK Government introduced the Withdrawal Bill to the House of Commons on 13 July 2017 and it was made law on 26 June 2018. The intention of the Bill is to ensure that when the UK exits the EU, “the same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before”. It is vital that a commitment from government is secured so that laws concerning animals are not rolled back; there are also opportunities to strengthen current measures.

The NAVS is working to ensure protections for animals in research are not lost in the Brexit negotiations, including as part of a a coalition organised by the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare (A-LAW) and Wildlife and Countryside Link which published the report ‘Brexit: getting the best deal for animals’.

The Prime Minister has stated that “We will maintain the UK’s high standards of food safety and of animal welfare, that will be a priority for us” and the government has previously indicated EU legislation on animal experiments will continue to be incorporated within UK law. We will however be working to ensure this is the case.

Animals in research

Specifically, we urge the government to consider undertaking a stringent review of animal use in regulatory testing, increase transparency and maintain the EU cosmetics ban in trade agreements with countries outside of Europe.

Decades of progress have seen the replacement of outdated animal tests with advanced non-animal techniques. The prospect that Brexit could turn the scientific clock back, returning to outdated methods, is a real concern. Researchers in the UK have previously called for less regulation and may well now press for “cutting through the EU red tape” to make it easier to test on animals, with less scrutiny and oversight. Although there have been reassurances that the main laws on animal testing would remain the same, the UK will lose the “recitals” from the European Directive, which sets out the spirit of the law. This includes “the final goal full replacement of procedures on live animals for scientific and educational purposes”.

Concerns have also been raised in parliamentary debates that, without requirements to share animal testing data, set out in the chemical testing regulations (REACH), duplication of these tests might occur. MP Mary Creagh pointed out how “UK companies registering chemicals within REACH must share data from animal testing. Other registrants access that data, which minimises the need to carry out and duplicate animal testing, but only participants in REACH have access to that data, so we could see an unwelcome increase in animal testing”. These fears were confirmed when Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Therese Coffey MP said at a House of Lords Committee on REACH that should new UK regulations be brought in, “if that required animal testing, then that would require animal testing”.

The EU Cosmetics Directive bans the import of products that have been tested on animals. This key Directive prevents manufacturers in the USA, China and others from selling their products in Europe if they have been animal tested. One commitment which the UK Government has made is to continue the marketing ban on cosmetics products tested on animals, which will be directly applied to the UK upon exiting the EU.

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