UK government accused of abandoning animal welfare issues as vital Kept Animals Bill is scrapped
26 May 2023 --- The UK government has made a U-turn on its animal welfare initiatives, scrapping the Kept Animals Bill which has been met with heavy criticism from the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWR) and The Humane Society International-UK group. Instead, the government has set up a new Animal Sentience Committee that will focus on penalty notices.
The CAWR says it is “disappointed by yesterday’s government statement” which confirms the discontinuation of the Kept Animals Bill, originally backed by Rishi Sunak during his manifesto to become Prime Minister.
Instead, five members have been appointed to form the first-ever Animal Sentience Committee. The UK government has also consulted on enforcement strategies for animal health and welfare offenses in the UK and plans to introduce greater punitive punishments such as fines.
But in addressing the discontinuation of the Kept Animals Bill, CAWR argues: “This represents a missed opportunity to further enhance the welfare and protection of animals across the UK.”
Provisions in the Kept Animals Bill include ending live animal exports for fattening and slaughter, and other measures outside of F&B like tackling puppy smuggling. They resonate with the public’s priorities and deliver critical Conservative manifesto commitments.
“Almost 14 million people elected this government on a platform which promised to deliver for animals. More recently, the continuation of this Bill was promised by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in 2022 during his leadership campaign,” CAWR underlines.
The Humane Society International UK group also condemns the government’s decision to abandon the Kept Animals Bill as an “astonishing betrayal of both animals and public trust.”
Steep fines for illegal animal produce imports
The Animal Sentience Committee has been designed to support parliament in assessing how well policy decision-making across government effectively considers animal welfare.
The government is also launching an eight-week public consultation on introducing penalty notices to bolster enforcement for animal health and welfare offenses – meaning those who commit crimes such as importing illegal animal products could face fines of up to £5,000 (US$6,176).
Giving enforcement bodies the option to issue penalty notices provides a middle-ground enforcement option between the current routes of giving advice and guidance and pursuing prosecution, the UK government notes.
Bridging this gap could lead to a fairer and more consistent approach to protecting animals from harm, it claims.
Alongside these latest measures, ministers are also supporting Private Members’ Bills that are currently before parliament – banning the import of detached shark fins, prohibiting the import of hunting trophies and banning the advertising and offering for sale of “unacceptably low” animal welfare activities abroad.
Other animal welfare issues spotlighted
FoodIngredientsFirst has been following recent developments surrounding the issue. A legal dispute over the use of fast-growing chickens on farms in England was dismissed in the high court this week.
Animal welfare campaigners stress that the genetically-selected breeds – which they call “Frankenchickens” – suffer serious health problems.
The UK court assessed claims the government had misinterpreted welfare regulations in allowing the farming of the chickens. In his decision, the judge, Sir Ross Cranston, said the Secretary of State, Thérèse Coffey, had not “acted contrary to her legal duties.”
He also said she had considered the science and accepted that “there may be a higher risk of welfare issues with fast-growing meat chickens, but takes the view that they can be kept without detriment to their welfare since environmental conditions can have an influence on the health and welfare of birds with both fast and slow-growing breeds.”
The RSPCA’s head of farm animals, Dr. Marc Cooper, believes the outcome represents “a significant failure to address the most pressing animal welfare issue of our time.”
In the EU last month, the European Commission (EC) revealed it was on track to revise all animal welfare legislation. In its leaked Farm to Fork Strategy, the EC recognized that “societal demands are not met, but the trend is clear: many EU citizens pay increasing attention to animal welfare.”
Ethical concerns have also been raised, in particular, against the systematic slaughtering of male one-day-old chicks and against long-distance animal transports and fur farming.
An impact assessment found that most EU citizens expect less intensive farming and breeding systems. The report looked at 18 measures to improve the welfare of kept animals, including journey times, space allowance and the banning of mutilations.
By Elizabeth Green
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