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Caging of Farm Animals — Geraint Davies in the Chair

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:49 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:49 pm, 16th March 2020

I think I will call you “Mr Chairman”, Mr Davies. I do not think I will call you anything else in the circumstances.

I thank the Petitions Committee for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very important subject, and it is a pleasure to follow excellent speeches from Members of all parties—particularly from my hon. Friend Sir David Amess, who I have heard speak passionately about such issues many times. Indeed, we rehearsed many of the arguments in the Agriculture Bill Committee when he was the Chair and was prevented from opining on the subject, so it is good to hear from him today. I also thank the more than 100,000 people who signed the petition and brought this issue to our attention, and I acknowledge and praise the animal welfare campaigners who have played an enormous part over the years, with celebrity endorsements, advertising and general encouragement to improve our animal welfare standards. We have come a long way, particularly with the welfare standards of chickens such as Trevor.

The Government have made it clear that we place great importance on the welfare of farmed animals. The “End the cage age” petition calls for a ban on the use of barren and enriched cages for farmed animals, and I assure hon. Members that the Government are keen to explore the issue. Indeed, the Prime Minister noted in Parliament last year that he was keen to introduce animal welfare measures. We will continue to focus on maintaining world-leading farm animal welfare standards through both regulatory requirements and statutory codes.

The welfare of our farmed livestock is protected by comprehensive and robust legislation, backed up by the statutory species-specific welfare codes. The codes encourage high standards of husbandry, and keepers are required by law to have access to them and to be familiar with them. As part of the welfare reforms, I am pleased to say that the third of our newly updated welfare codes—for pigs—came into force on 1 March, and I will say a bit more about that later.

The Government have set ourselves a challenging agenda of animal welfare issues that we will tackle, and we are taking action on many fronts to improve the health and wellbeing of farm animals. A major example is that we are committed to ending excessively long journeys for live animals going for slaughter and for fattening. We will soon launch a consultation on how we deliver that manifesto commitment, and I am keen to press ahead with that as soon as we can. Our “Farming for the future” policy statement, which is favourite reading for Daniel Zeichner, was published last month and reiterates that, in line with our national values, we wish to continue improving and building on our position.

As part of our reforms to agricultural policy, we are developing publicly funded schemes for English farmers to provide public goods—including animal welfare enhancements, which are valued by the public and not sufficiently provided by the market. Such enhancements could include improving animal welfare in relation to the use of cages and crates. Not all the examples that I am about to mention are absolutely relevant to the debate, but given that this is a matter which the hon. Members for Cambridge and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and I have discussed many times, it is important that I explain our thinking. We intend to develop publicly funded schemes to support farmers in England to deliver enhanced animal health and welfare, so the schemes are intended to reward them for going above and beyond already high standards, which I think the hon. Member for Bristol East recognised.

To take broiler chickens as a specific example, delivering enhancements may include farms using slower-growing, high-welfare breeds of chicken that have the freedom to exhibit natural behaviours through increased communication and a stimulating environment, or through the freedom to roam, peck and scratch outside. For dairy cattle, the enhanced freedom to exhibit natural behaviours could involve increased access to stimulating loafing or outdoor space, and the freedom to access and graze good-quality pasture. I will come to welfare enhancement for pigs later, but they could include rooting and foraging as well as addressing the issues of crates and tail dockings.