Overview (June 2022)
The wellbeing of animals, including their protection from abuse and harm is an extremely important issue, which is reflected in the Government’s new Action Plan for Animal Welfare.
My ministerial colleagues and I are prioritising animal welfare as an important issue for this Parliament, and I am glad that the Government has set out a series of ambitious reforms.
I welcome that the Government’s Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will bring in some of the world’s most robust protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals. This includes a ban on keeping primates as pets, banning the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening.
Further, I am glad that it will also address the unethical trade of puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets that can travel under pet travel rules. It will do this by introducing restrictions to crack down on the low welfare movements of pets into Great Britain and includes powers to introduce new restrictions on pet travel and the commercial import of pets on welfare grounds, via secondary legislation. The Bill recently passed Committee stage in the House of Commons and I look forward to supporting this Bill as it continues to progress through Parliament.
I am encouraged that the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act will formally recognise animals as sentient beings in domestic law and ensure that animal sentience is taken into account when developing policy across Government through the creation of an Animal Sentience Committee, which will be made up of animal experts from within the field. This Department is committed to ensuring that these proposals are delivered to ensure that animals both in this country and overseas have the best possible welfare.
Animal welfare is not only a hugely important topic, but it is also incredibly wide reaching, and I have outlined my thoughts on some of the more specific issues below.
Animal cruelty (June2022)
I am proud that the UK has consistently led the way on animal protections, with the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act increasing prison sentences for the most serious perpetrators of animal cruelty from the previous maximum of six months to up to five years. The maximum sentence is one of the toughest punishments in Europe, and only strengthens the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare.
Animal testing (June 2022)
The use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of how biological systems work in health and disease, and in the development of new medicines, treatments and technologies. I am assured that animals, including dogs, are only used in research when there are no suitable alternatives, and any tests are carried out under controls that keep suffering to a minimum. This is known as the last-resort principle, and I am opposed to animal tests where alternative approaches could be used.
Farming (June 2022)
Ministers are actively exploring options to phase out the use of cages, including the use of cages for laying hens. I am also aware that the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway will prioritise areas for further improvement in welfare for pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry. It sets out how livestock farmers and the Government will work together to deliver continual improvement. Funding will be made available to pay for two to three hours of farmer and vet time to look at the health and welfare of their animals, receive a report from the vet, receive advice on action to take.
Regarding foie gras, I am aware that the production of force-fed foie gras raises welfare concerns. This practice is banned in England and Wales under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Ministers are now able to consider any further steps that could be taken in relation to foie gras that is produced overseas using force feeding practices and the Government is building a clear evidence base to inform decisions on the import or sale of foie gras.
Hunting (June 2022)
The Government is committed to legislation to ban the import of hunting trophies from thousands of species. This will be one of the toughest bans in the world, and goes beyond the Government’s manifesto commitment, meaning that the UK will be leading the way in protecting endangered animals and supporting long-term conservation. I understand that this will be brought forward as soon as Parliamentary time allows.
Further, fur farming has been banned in the UK for 20 years and there are already restrictions on some skin and fur products which may never be legally imported into the UK. The Government’s call for evidence to seek views and evidence on the current fur sector will be used to inform future decisions on the fur trade. I understand that ministers are reviewing the evidence gathered which I look forward to reading when it is published.
Sale of Ivory (June 2022)
The sale of ivory is an abhorrent practice, requiring the killing of one of the world’s most iconic and intelligent animals, the elephant. Given that the lives of such majestic creatures are sacrificed to support the trade, ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol.
Recognising this fact, the Government passed the Ivory Act 2018, one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales, with some of the strongest enforcement provisions. This Act has now come into force, and it is illegal to deal in ivory items unless they have been registered or have an exemption certificate. In February, the digital ivory service was launched, where people can register and certify exempted ivory items ahead of dealing in them.
I am glad that the Government’s new ban on ivory has just come in to force as of 6th June 2022, requiring anyone wishing to deal in exempted ivory items to register and certify their items using the online digital service.
Further, ministers have also consulted separately on extending the Ivory Act to afford greater protections to hippopotamuses and walruses, and I look forward to reading the Government's official response once this has been published. Banning ivory sales reaffirms the UK’s global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that this abhorrent trade should become a thing of the past.
Genetic technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (June 2022)
The Government is showing its commitment to agricultural and scientific innovation in the UK through the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill. This will enable the development and marketing of precision bred plants and animals, which will drive economic growth and position the UK as the leading country in which to invest in agri-food research and innovation.
The Bill will enable DNA to be edited much more efficiently and precisely than traditional breeding techniques, producing beneficial traits that can also occur through traditional breeding and natural processes. This is, therefore, different to genetic modification where modern techniques are used to insert functional DNA from an unrelated species into another species.
Ministers recognise that there is a need to safeguard animal welfare and that is why the Government is creating enabling legislation for precision bred plants first and then animals. I am assured that no changes will be made to the regulation of animals under the genetically modified organism (GMO) regime until the regulatory system outlined in the Bill is developed to safeguard animal welfare. I am aware that before marketing precision bred animals, developers will need to provide assurances to confirm that the welfare of the animal (and its offspring) will not be adversely affected by any trait resulting from precision breeding. This will be in the form of an animal welfare declaration, with accompanying evidence.