One trade freedom we could do without

istock_000004682690small_cowsSupporters of Brexit and campaigners for animal welfare are not natural bedfellows. And indeed my quick poll of the intuitive reaction to Thursday’s vote revealed anxiety about a future race to the bottom in terms of welfare standards as European regulations are unpicked and new trade deals are carved out, whether with individual member states of the EU, the European Union as a whole, or under the surveillance of the WTO. (But here’s a call for action:

Which is why it is critical at this moment to remember that the obstacle in the way of this country reviewing its participation in the trade in live animals is one of the pillars of the EU Treaty: free movement of goods. Animals are regarded as goods, and any measure adopted by a member state government interfering with the movement of livestock within the single market and beyond its borders with its trading partners has been prohibited as a “quantitative restriction” on exports. When we are eventually free of this overarching prohibition, no time should be lost in grasping the opportunity to alter our laws in recognition of humane standards in animal husbandry.

Some Background: veal crates and the port protests in the 1990s

Just at the time when the red carpet was being rolled out for the Human Rights Act, campaigners for the rights of non human animals had their eye on a much more difficult task: persuading the government that shipments of young calves to veal crates across the Channel defeated our hard-won animal welfare laws and were in breach of the EU’s own proclaimed animal protection measures. The practice of rearing veal for the popular white meat involves confining a week old calf in a box for five months until slaughter. The well respected farm animal charity Compassion in World Farming managed to convince the UK courts that they not only had standing but an arguable case that this export trade breached the domestic prohibition on the veal crate system as well as the relevant EU Convention and Recommendation. CIWF contended that the UK government had power under Community law

to restrict the export of veal calves to other Member States where the system described above was likely to be used, contrary to the standards in force in the United Kingdom and the international standards laid down by the Convention to which all the Member States and the Community had agreed to adhere….

the export of calves to face rearing contrary to the Convention is considered to be cruel and immoral by animal welfare organisations and a considerable body of public opinion, supported by authoritative scientific veterinary opinion, in the Member State from which exports occur.

In fact the EU rules merely contained stipulations as to the minimum width of veal crates and the composition of veal calves’ diets. Continue reading

EU Court gives the go ahead on certain stem cells – Olivia Hart

parthenote-stemcellInternational Stem Cell Corporation v Comptroller General of Patents [2014] EUECJ C-364-13, 18 December 2014 – read judgment 

This was a referral to the European Court of Justice (CJEU) requesting clarification of Article 6(2) of Directive 98/44/EC protecting biotechnological inventions (“the Biotech Directive”). We posted earlier about the High Court decision leading up to the referral concerning two GB patent applications that both involve the ‘parthenogenetic activation of oocytes’. The Court asked for clarification on what exactly defines a human embryo and what precisely is the developmental potential of a parthenote

Ever since scientists came upon the idea of using embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes there has been a something of an ethical furore around the topic. So the pressure has been on to find alternatives. Parthenotes – products of unfertilised egg division – have been proposed as candidates. However even research using parthenotes may fall foul of the law’s protection of ‘human dignity’.  Continue reading

Why we allow dissent – by our judges

Why do judges disagree and publish their disagreements when cases get decided? After all, the Cabinet does not do so (openly at least), and our FTSE-100 companies do not generally do so, when their executives propose a merger or launch a new product.  Surely, judicial dissent is a recipe for diminishing the authority of the majority answer, and an invitation to self-indulgence on the part of the minority to re-fight lost and irrelevant battles.

Lord Kerr has given a very persuasive answer to both concerns in the Birkenhead lecture on 8 October 2012. But it is worth thinking about the alternative way of doing things, before making up your mind on whether the current way is the best way.

Continue reading