However, the greatest difference between the British and US systems of farming is their attitudes to animal welfare. The UK has legally recognised the sentience of farm animals since 1875 when the first regulations were introduced to govern slaughterhouses. Since then we have introduced the Animals Act of 1911, tougher slaughterhouse regulations in 1933 and then a series of other improvements culminating in the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. We have some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world and we have driven improvements in other European countries that have traditionally lagged behind.

In the US, legislation on animal welfare is woefully deficient. There are some regulations governing slaughterhouses but they are not as comprehensive. As far as on-farm welfare legislation is concerned, there is virtually nothing at all at a federal level and only weak and patchy animal welfare regulations at a state-level predominantly in the West Coast states. There is a general resistance to even acknowledging the existence of sentience in farm animals which is quite extraordinary.

Consumers in the US have started to drive a change. There has been a growing demand for “natural” beef that has not been treated with hormones. There has also been a growing organic sector. The most important change has been delivered by emerging policies from large companies such as McDonald’s. Steve Easterbrook is a British citizen and the former head of McDonald’s in the UK.

In that role he developed a suite of policies to promote higher animal welfare on farms supplying McDonald’s. He has since become the global CEO of McDonald’s based in the US, and he has taken British values of compassion with him. McDonald’s is now driving improvement in welfare on some US farms, for instance by stipulating requirements on the stocking densities used for chicken meat producers.

The Conservative party had a manifesto commitment to promote British values on animal welfare through any future trade deals we might strike. A modern trade deal is not simply about commerce, it is also about values. There is currently a cross-party consensus that we should enshrine the recognition of animal sentience in statute to underpin all our existing policies and inform new ones. One option might be to suggest that the US introduce a similar piece of legislation at federal level to drive the modernisation of its own laws. We could even send British advisers to Washington to help them do it as part of our trade negotiations.

The international trade secretary, Liam Fox, understandably wants to talk about opportunities for new industries such as services or digital but, in the court of public opinion, if the choice is between the commercial interests of banks or the welfare of chickens, the chickens will win every time. The sound of clucking chickens will never be far from the negotiating table, tugging at our consciences so we might as well get used to it. Unless we deliver on our manifesto commitment, we will give free trade a bad name. We should use the power of the UK to project British values of kindness and compassion in any future trade deals.

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