Live Animal Exports
All animals deserve to be respected and cared for at every stage of their lives. The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and I am pleased that my Party's General Election manifesto included a commitment to take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter once we leave the European Union.
A call for evidence was launched in 2018 by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, on improving animal welfare in transport and controlling live animal exports. The call for evidence lasted six weeks and sought views from across industry, charities and the general public on how the Government might raise standards of animal welfare during transport. The evidence has been passed to the Farm Animal Welfare Committee who are carrying out a review of existing transport standards. They will make recommendations for improvements for when we leave the EU in a report which is expected to be published later this year.
Calls for a ban on the export of live animals for fattening: Although much of the discussion has focused on the export of live animals for slaughter, I am assured that all options for future improvements in this area are being considered. I hope those supporting a ban on the export of animals for fattening took the opportunity to respond to the call for evidence and make their views heard.
Acting on live animal exports forms part of the Government's programme of reforms to cement the UK's position as a global leader in animal welfare as we leave the EU, and deliver a Green Brexit. Other measures include making CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, increasing the maximum sentence for animal abuse from six months to five years and writing the principle of animal sentience into UK law.
Caged Farm Animals
The new statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Laying Hens and Pullets came into force in August 2018. The Code provides improved and up-to-date guidance on welfare legislation and reflects the latest scientific and veterinary advice. I am also aware that all major supermarkets have said they will stop selling eggs from hens kept in enriched cages by 2025.
On pig welfare, the aim is to get to a point where traditional farrowing crates are obsolete and where any new system protects the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets. As I understand it, important steps have been made on the use of free farrowing systems, but more advances are needed before compulsory replacement of farrowing crates can be recommended.
In 2009 the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, which advises the Government and the industry on these issues, said that cows kept in very large units or continuously housed can have a satisfactory standard of welfare. A further study published in 2013 identified 82 continuously housed dairies in the UK, very few of which keep all their cows indoors all year round. It found no major differences in health compared with other systems, but did make several recommendations as to how housing units can be made more attractive to cows.
It is important to recognise that poor welfare may occur in both small and large scale units and in both intensive and extensive systems. I therefore agree with the Committee that the most important influence on farm animal welfare in any production system is the knowledge, skills and experience of the stockmen.
While a number of companies already provide information on how their milk is produced, which I welcome, this is ultimately a matter between the producer and the consumer.
Animals as Sentient Beings
I believe animals are sentient beings who can feel pain and suffering, and I would like to reassure you that strong action is being taken to reduce their risk of harm.
The Government is committed to making any necessary changes to UK law in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is legally recognised once the UK leaves the EU. This also includes ensuring the UK has an effective means of making sure that animal sentience is reflected in future policy decisions. I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently engaging closely with relevant organisations and authorities to enhance its policies on this issue further; the Secretary of State recently met leading members of the #BetterDealForAnimals campaign to discuss this important matter.
Encouraging action is being taken to improve animal welfare at home and abroad by increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty, banning third party sales of puppies, and introducing one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales. I believe these very welcome steps demonstrate exactly how seriously this Government takes animal welfare.
Once we have left the EU, we could do even more. The UK's current position of full harmonisation with EU rules on pet travel means the import of puppies under 6 months cannot be banned, and cracking down on puppy smuggling is a challenge because of the difficulty in accurately identifying underage puppies at the border. EU rules also restrict our ability to control live animal exports.
We are a nation of animal lovers and I am pleased with the commitments to make Brexit work not just for citizens, but for the animals we love and cherish too.
Last updated June 2019