The Government shares the public’s high regard for animal welfare and the welfare of our farmed livestock is protected by comprehensive and robust legislation. This is backed up by statutory species specific welfare codes, which encourage high standards of husbandry and which keepers are required by law to have access to and be familiar with. Animal and Plant Health Agency inspectors and local authorities conduct inspections on farms to check that the animal welfare standards are being met.
Whatever the system of production, the most important factor in determining animal welfare is good stockmanship and the correct application of husbandry standards. This reflects the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee.
We have already banned cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare. For example, we banned the keeping of calves in veal crates in 1990, the keeping of sows in close confinement stalls in the UK in 1999, and the use of conventional (‘battery’) cages for laying hens in 2012.
The Government will maintain its high regulatory baseline and look to raise standards sustainably over time as new research and evidence emerges. We have been very clear that our departure from the EU will not lead to a lowering of our high animal welfare standards. Our regulatory system will offer the same level of assurance of animal welfare following exit as it does now and we are actively exploring options for strengthening the UK system moving forward. We have introduced mandatory CCTV in abattoirs and are looking to control exports of live animals for slaughter. On 26 June, the Government introduced a Bill to enable tougher prison sentences for the worst animal abusers. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill means that animal abusers could face up to five years in prison, a significant increase from the current maximum sentence of six months. Courts will be able to take a firmer approach to cases such as dog fighting, abuse of puppies and kittens, or gross neglect of farm animals.
In England, we intend to use the powers in the Agriculture Bill to develop publicly funded schemes for farmers to deliver animal welfare enhancements beyond our high regulatory baseline that are not sufficiently rewarded by the market, and also want to provide greater transparency and certainty for consumers and for farmers. We will work with industry, retailers, welfare groups and the Farm Animal Welfare Committee to define these enhancements.