The recent announcement by DEFRA that it plans to repeal farm animal welfare codes has caused an understandable furore among consumers and animal welfare organisations alike.
The UK Government plans to reform the codes of welfare for farmed animals in England, changing them from statutory codes owned by government into voluntary guidance that is drafted by the livestock industry. They are starting with poultry but plan to do the same with other livestock sectors, including the cattle, sheep and pig farming industries.
Fortunately for farmed animals in Scotland, Defra’s announcement will not affect them as the Codes are devolved. However, OneKind is calling on the Scottish Government to give assurances that they do not intend on replicating this reckless drive to deregulate the farming industry by removing vital protections for the animals involved.
Farmed animals are already vulnerable to poor welfare as intensification continues to increase, with indoor rearing, high stocking densities and mutilations becoming a matter of routine. Here in Scotland, we have animal welfare codes covering cattle, horses, laying hens, meat and breeding chickens, pigs, sheep and gamebirds (as well as cats and dogs). The benefit of these codes is that – currently – they recommend standards that are at least a little higher than the basic legal requirements. For example, they require farmers to “consider carefully” whether the painful mutilations of tail docking and castration are actually needed in their flock. We would of course prefer that such practices simply didn’t happen, but that argument is for another day.
The Order now lodged at Westminster will revoke the first of the existing English codes – covering chickens reared for meat - on 27 April. It will be replaced by a new document mainly drafted by the British Poultry Council, which represents the chicken-farming industry.
OneKind has long opposed handing animal protection standards over to the industry. We objected to these proposals when DEFRA consulted on them in summer 2013, making it clear that we see it as government’s responsibility to promote animal welfare and that we do not believe that doing so makes the regulatory ‘burden’ any heavier.
Scrapping statutory codes in favour of industry-led guidance not only downgrades the status of the guidance, but it risks condemning millions of animals to a poorer quality of life. This is deregulation for its own sake, and without regard for its impacts on the lives of animals.
It may be too late to reverse the inexorable devaluing of animal welfare standards in England – but there is no need for Scotland to follow suit. OneKind is writing to the Scottish Government to seek an assurance that there will be no such retrograde changes in Scotland. If there is any such proposal, we will resist it. The Scottish Government must retain its responsibility for promoting the welfare of over 20 million farmed animals in this country.
If you would like to express your concern on the moves to repeal English animal welfare codes, you can take part in the petition on the 38degrees website.