Animal welfare update: February 2024

Dear Constituent,

Thank you for your email regarding animal welfare.

In 2021, the Government's Action Plan for Animal Welfare (available here: Action Plan for Animal Welfare - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)), set out reforms for this Parliament and beyond. Since then, the Government has passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act, recognising the sentience of vertebrate animals and some invertebrate animals. In addition, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act introduced tougher sentences for cruelty, increasing maximum sentences. The Ivory Act came into force in 2022 and has recently been extended to cover five more endangered species. These are some of the measures which have been introduced in recent years to improve animal welfare and strengthen the sanctions.

The Kept Animals Bill, introduced in June 2021, was designed to implement several government ambitions for animal welfare, including banning the live exports of animals, seeking to prevent pet theft, and new measures to tackle livestock worrying. I am aware that the Bill’s multi-issue nature means that there has been considerable scope creep, and it risks going beyond the original commitments in the Conservative manifesto on which I was elected and those set out in the action plan. Therefore, the Government will now be taking forward measures in the Kept Animals Bill individually during the remainder of the Parliament.

I agree that these measures are overdue and you can be assured that I will continue to press the Government on this. To this effect, I asked a question of the Secretary of State, Therese Coffey, regarding the Government’s progress for two specific measures, the keeping of primates as pets and the importing dogs with cropped ears. I include the link to my question here: Question to Defra Secretary - YouTube. I was pleased to hear that the Government are taking forward the measures in the next session of Parliament (which is due to begin in November) and look forward to being able to support the Government.

I note that you have raised a number of issues in your below email and so I shall respond to each of them in turn below.

Firstly, my website has information about my views on a range of issues relating to animal welfare - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs | Richard Fuller and the Government continues to take action across a range of animal welfare issues.

The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill was introduced to Parliament as a Private Member’s Bill in June 2022. I note that the Government fully supports this Bill, which will ban the import of hunting trophies from around 6,000 species, including lions, elephants, rhinos, and polar bears, delivering a key manifesto commitment on international conservation and animal welfare. I welcome that this Bill completed its Remaining Stages in the House of Commons on Friday 17 March.

I would like to assure you that Ministers are committed to cracking down on puppy smuggling and will ban the imports of young or heavily pregnant dogs, as well as dogs with mutilations, such as cropped ears or docked tails. Applying strengthened penalties will send a clear message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated and will enable our courts to take a firmer approach to cases where pets are illegally imported. I understand that the Government plans to take forward legislative measures to tackle puppy smuggling as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The UK has one of the most rigorous pet travel border checking regimes in the world and I am aware that every dog travelling into Great Britain on approved routes has its microchip and paperwork checked to make sure they are all properly vaccinated and are old enough to travel. In addition, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) consulted on proposed changes to the commercial and non-commercial movements of pets into Great Britain. Defra has been carefully reviewing feedback from this consultation, and I look forward to reading a summary in due course.

Further, Ministers have taken action to tackle the practice of puppy farming. Following the introduction of Lucy’s Law in 2020, everyone must now buy directly from breeders or consider adopting from rescue centres, which is a major step in stopping the illegal pet trade. If an individual sells puppies or kittens without a licence, they could receive an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months.

With regard to banning live animal export, the Government remains fully committed to delivering its manifesto commitments on animal welfare. Having left the EU, the Government is able to and will ban live exports for fattening and slaughter. There have been no live exports from Great Britain since 2020, but legislation will ensure that this becomes permanent. Ministers remain committed to delivering it.

I note your concerns about caged farm animals, however, I understand that my ministerial colleagues do not believe that the time is right to consult on cage reforms. I am informed that the market is already driving the move away from using cages for laying hen production, and that the proportion of eggs from caged hens has steadily decreased from 47 per cent of total throughput in Q4 of 2017 to 21 per cent in Q1 of 2023.

I am assured that the Government will continue to work with the sector maintain and enhance high standards of welfare. For example, the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway will prioritise areas for additional improvement in the health and welfare for pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry. I know that one of the Government’s priorities for the pathway includes supporting producers to transition away from confinement systems. More broadly, the Government will continue to improve biosecurity to control endemic diseases, and on meat chickens, producers are being encouraged to implement the Better Chicken commitment which would require the use of slower growing breeds and lower stocking densities.

In relation to the importing of fur, my views can be found on my website above.

On food labelling for animal welfare, Ministers want to make it easier for consumers to purchase food that aligns with their values, by improving transparency and providing the industry with a level playing field to promote such products. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) intends to work with the industry to explore how to harness the market to improve food information for consumers and raise animal welfare standards.

Finally, with regard to the Government’s food strategy, I know that the Government advocate for a healthy balanced diet, based on the national food model the Eatwell Guide. The evidence is clear that our diets should include more fibre, fruit and vegetables. I am also aware that meat and dairy can both be an important part of a balanced diet. While the Government encourages people to eat sensibly, I believe it is for each individual to decide how much meat and dairy is in their diet. The Government’s Food Strategy sets out the importance of strengthening our food security, committing to broadly maintaining the amount of food that we produce domestically, and boosting production in sectors where there are the biggest opportunities. Through harnessing new technologies and innovation, we will grow and eat more of our own food, unlocking jobs across the country, growing the economy, and helping to reduce pressure on food prices.

The UK has made significant progress in reducing methane emissions, with emissions decreasing by 62 per cent between 1990 and 2020. The Government is committed to the Global Methane Pledge which takes voluntary actions to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030.

The Government’s Net Zero Strategy sets out plans to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions, including methane. Ruminant livestock are the leading cause of agriculture methane emissions. While improvements in productivity have already reduced emissions from the sector, new technologies and livestock management improvements can help this go further.

I am also aware that the Government invested £2.6 billion to combat food waste in 2022. This included funding the Waste and Resources Action Plan (WRAP) and working to address food waste in households and supply chains. Ministers also support the Courtauld 2030 Commitment, a voluntary agreement with industry to tackle food waste. This includes working with businesses to measure and reduce food waste through the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap. Ministers recently consulted on options to improve reporting of food waste volumes by large food businesses in England.

The Government also supports WRAP's campaigns, such as Food Waste Action Week and Love Food Hate Waste, which aim to raise public awareness of food waste and the ways in which citizens can reduce it. This includes advice on how to shop for, store, and cook foods in ways that minimise waste. Since 2018, around £13 million has been awarded to over 250 redistribution organisations across the country to bolster the capability and capacity of the redistribution sector.

Finally, in line with setting a global example on animal welfare, Ministers also want to make sure that money from tourists from this country is channelled towards animal experiences abroad that practice the highest welfare and conservation standards. The Government fully supported the Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Act, which will prohibit the sale and advertising in the UK of activities abroad which involve low standards of welfare for animals.

I understand that Ministers have been considering how to reduce the availability and visibility of unacceptably low welfare experiences to tourists from the UK when making decisions about which activities to undertake when abroad. Such activities, attractions and experiences are unacceptable and it would be better for tourists from our own country to opt to visit higher welfare attractions and experiences abroad.

The Association of British Travel Agents has published guidance and lists activities which have been classified as unacceptable. I welcome that the Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Act recently completed all stages in Parliament and is now law.

Thank you once again for contacting me about animal welfare.

Sincerely,

R