Deregulation – Putting the fox in charge of the henhouse

30th March 2016 / United Kingdom

The whole point of government regulation is to intervene in the conflict of interest that companies and individuals have between their own financial benefit and the public interest.

Most people seem to get that, but not here. We’ve documented a long process of UK government prioritising business interests in policy-making and creating new processes that give businesses more say in what gets regulated and how.

The latest capitulation to business is over animal welfare standards. From next month the poultry industry itself will write the guidance on what counts as compliance with animal welfare regulations. For example, poultry farmers will typically trim the beaks of their chickens to prevent them injuring one another – current guidance advises that this should be limited to beak blunting performed by trained professionals to very high standards. The industry will now decide on this guidance itself.  As this is the current guidance, as commentators have rightly pointed out, when it comes to self-regulation of standards the only way is down.

The fact this move was slipped out quietly indicates an awareness of just how out of sync it is with  public attitudes, which view environmental and social protections very favourably. When they tried to crowd source online suggestions from the public for regulations that should be scrapped they mostly ended up with suggestions for more regulation, not less.

The consequences are very real. The Volkswagen scandal, in which the car company deliberately flouted rules about what fumes its vehicles could emit, showed that weak regulation and enforcement can lead to corporate abuse and, ultimately, deaths. Last week it emerged that the UK government stopped spot-checking cars to check compliance with pollution regulations five years ago.

The only way our government can convince us that all of this is good for us is by misconstruing social and environmental protections as pesky ‘red tape’. Decisions taken by and for businesses are shrouded in language of entrepreneurialism and freedom from bureaucracy.

But is lessening the pain for battery farmed chickens really a case of red tape? Or trying to protect children from air pollution created by cars? Not in my books.

This handover of welfare guidance starts with the poultry and will be extended to other meat industries. But the wider story is about more than just our food. This is one more step in a long road of deregulation that threatens the democratic principle of government itself – the state should make decisions in the interest of society overall, not just businesses.

By – economics as if people and the planet mattered

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