Campaign: Animal Sentience & Sentencing
The Government is committed to further strengthening our world-leading animal welfare standards and fully supports increasing the maximum custodial sentences for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was introduced into the House of Commons by Chris Loder MP on 5 February. Second Reading is due on 23 October. The Government will continue to support it as it makes its way through Parliament.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have committed to bringing in new laws on animal sentience. Any necessary changes required to domestic legislation will be made in an effective and credible way and will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows. In the meantime, Defra is continuing to engage closely with stakeholders to further refine the Government's proposals on animal sentience.
Animal Testing - Dstl Porton Down
I disagree with the practice of animal testing, except where doing so will aid lifesaving research. The use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of how biological systems work. Animals at facilities such as Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) are used in experiments for the development of new vaccines, treatments or medical procedures and not conducted to develop or test offensive weapons. As a result of this research, we will not only save the lives of UK service personnel but can also help civilians.
The Home Office will only allow animal testing if there is no alternative. The testing must be done under controls which keep the suffering of the animal to a minimum. The government is committed to ensuring that any animal testing licence granted under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 must rigorously and demonstrably apply the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) principles. Implementing the 3Rs requires that, in every research proposal the number of animals tested is kept to an absolute minimum and that, for those animals which must be used, procedures are refined as much as possible to minimise their suffering.
I have been working with farmers on this issue for over twenty years. Gloucestershire has been badly hit by bovine TB which is why it started as one of the trial areas for badger culling. Many farmers are in no doubt that badgers, as protected species, are the main source of the disease. I certainly don’t want to see badgers killed, but many cattle have had to be slaughtered because of the disease.
Since the culling began, farmers in Gloucestershire have reported to me that the incidence of the disease has reduced significantly. The Animal and Plant Health Agency published data showed last year that there was a drop in cattle TB incidence in the first two cull areas, where the number of new confirmed breakdowns has dropped by around 50%. In the Gloucestershire cull area, the incidence of TB has dropped from 10.4% before culling began to 5.6% in the twelve months following the fourth year of culling.
It is important that culling is carried out as humanely as possible, and I continue to be in touch with DEFRA and farmers on this and other issues. It is also important that other work is undertaken to counter the disease, such as efforts to develop an appropriate vaccine, all of which is happening.
Campaign: Tethering #BreakTheChain
Defra is keen to ensure that we uphold our high standards of welfare including in relation to tethering. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (the 2006 Act) it is an offence to fail to provide for an animal’s welfare or to cause it any unnecessary suffering. The Code provides owners and keepers with information on how to meet the welfare needs of their animals and includes a specific section on how to tether horses and other animals covered.
Defra considers that this legislation and guidance provides the right safeguards in respect of animal tethering however, admit that more can be done to spread best practice amongst horse owners. To spread this message, the government recently hosted a horse tethering roundtable with key stakeholders including horse welfare groups, local authorities and the RSPCA.
If anyone is concerned about the way a horse or other animal has been tethered they should report the matter either to the relevant local authority or to the RSPCA or World Horse Welfare who can investigate.
Live animal exports
I agree with the government position that animals should be slaughtered as close as practicable to their point of production. There should be a focus of a trade in meat and meat products as opposed to transporting live animals where possible. The government are looking to improve animal welfare standards following our exit from the European Union. Last year, the government launched a Call for Evidence on controlling live exports for slaughter and improving the welfare of all animals during transport. This evidence has now been passed to the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC), who recently submitted their advice to Defra. The government are currently considering FAWC’s recommendations and expect to come forward with proposals for public consultation to improve animal welfare in transport in due course.
It is important to note that exporting live animals for slaughter is rare and almost all that are exported only travel short distances. In 2016, 98.9% of live sheep exports went to Republic of Ireland with only 0.6% travelling to France and 0.5% traveling to the Netherlands. In the same year, 100% of all live cattle and pig exports went to the Republic of Ireland.
As a member of the European union, the UK is not able to ban live animal exports due to EU single market rules. European Union rules for improving animal welfare during transport were first implemented in 1977, revised by EU ministers in 2004 and reviewed in 2011. The following are just a few of the regulations that must be followed when transporting an animal abroad for slaughter:
- Transport arrangements must be made in advance to minimise the length of the journey and meet the animals’ needs
- The animals must be fit to travel
- The means of transport, and loading and unloading facilities, must be designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to avoid injury and suffering and ensure the animals' safety
- People handling the animals must be properly trained and may not use any form of violence
- Transportation to the destination must take place without delay and involve regular checks on the animals' welfare
- Sufficient height and floor space must be available for the animals
Following the UKs exit of the European union, the current regulations will remain in place until they are reviewed by parliament as set out in The European Union Withdrawal Act 2018).
There is ongoing debate about trophy hunting, its contribution to wildlife conservation and links to wildlife trafficking. Those opposed to trophy hunting are calling for a ban on imports of hunting trophies into the UK. Currently, trophy hunting is legal as long as it complies with a country’s existing hunting legislation, including ensuring all proper permits have been obtained. Exports and imports of hunting trophies from endangered species must be licenced under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Control on imports of hunting trophies by the EU where strengthened in 2015 to address concerns about links to wildlife trafficking. Several countries have banned the import of hunting trophies. The UK government is not considering a ban but has stated that it does keep the rules constantly under review. However, I will talk to the relevant government Minister about this issue.
End the Cage Age
I support this campaign in principle. I see no need for birds to be kept in cages in this way. The practice originated many years ago, largely on the grounds of cost, but I would support its outlawing now. And when I buy eggs myself, I always make sure that they are free range. The situation regarding sows is a little more complicated. Very restrictive cages were banned in 1999, but sometimes sows are kept in crates for the protection of their piglets. This situation is under discussion, and again I would prefer to see the animals as free as they can be. I attended a meeting on this issue recently, and will continue to press for high animal welfare standards to be achieved and maintained. As well as encouraging high animal welfare standards in our own country, we do also need to try to ensure that we do not import food from countries where animal welfare standards are much lower than our own. This would not be fair to our own farmers, and would not be fair on consumers who believe in high standards.
Wild Animals in Circuses
The Wild Animals in Circuses Bill has been introduced by the Government into the Commons. This will ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England by January 2020. The Government is at the forefront of animal welfare issues internationally, from tackling puppy smuggling to the illegal ivory trade. The use of animals in circuses has no place in modern society and I welcome the introduction of this Bill.
Illegal puppy smuggling is an awful practice and the Government is determined to put an end to this. The Secretary of State has outlined the steps which are already being taken to tackle this trade including increasing resourcing at major UK ports and identifying non-compliant animals destined for Dover and Folkestone ports.
Defra is considering a number of options for increased deterrent and improved enforcement as part of a long term strategy for pet travel. Stricter penalties, including the possibility of introducing Fixed Penalty Notices, are being considered. We are also evaluating the benefits of ensuring visual checks on all travelling pets, besides the documentary and identification checks that all pets are currently subject to at the UK border.
In July 2018, Defra hosted a well-attended workshop with key stakeholders from national and local government, NGOs, transport carriers, veterinary groups and others, including the Animal Health and Welfare Board of England, Border Force, RSPCA, Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and Canine and Feline Sector Group.
Through group discussions throughout the day, ideas for a 2030 vision were identified under five themes: Animal Welfare; Biosecurity; Enforcement; Consumer Demand; Sales & Licensing. These ideas, and others generated through ongoing work in this area, will inform the future long term strategy for pet travel.
Defra is committed to tackling the puppy smuggling journey from end to end – putting the spotlight on both supply and demand. We continue to work with border enforcement partner agencies, including Border Force, to ensure our enforcement work keeps pace with this evolving crime.
After the UK leaves the EU, the rules will not change in the short term for pets entering the UK under the Pet Travel Scheme or commercial import rules. However, looking to the future, leaving the EU will open up new opportunities for managing our own pet travel arrangements, including ensuring there are robust controls on disease and animal welfare. Defra is considering a number of options for increased deterrent and targeted enforcement as part of a long term strategy for pet travel.
I recently led a Westminster Hall debate on the issue of non-stun slaughter. This is of great concern to me personally, but also to my constituents and the wider public. I welcome the news that the Minister will be holding discussions with stakeholders from across animal welfare, religious communities and others so that we can move forward in ensuring we are doing all we can to prevent unnecessary suffering of animals at slaughter. You can read the full debate here: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2019-04-03a.429.0&p=10505#g433.2