I am proud that the UK has some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. There is comprehensive legislation to uphold these standards, as well as guidance on how best to protect the welfare of specific animals living on farms, such as hens, pigs and cattle.
The Government has already banned cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare, and is actively looking into the use of cages. I understand that it will be considering the full range of options that are available for future reform.
The new statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Laying Hens and Pullets came into force in August 2018. The Code provides improved guidance on welfare legislation and reflects the latest scientific and veterinary advice. I am also aware that all major supermarkets have said they will stop selling eggs from hens kept in enriched cages by 2025.
On pig welfare, the aim is to get to a point where traditional farrowing crates are obsolete and where any new system protects the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets. I understand that important steps have been made on the use of free farrowing systems, but further advances are needed before compulsory replacement of farrowing crates can be recommended.
The Government is committed in making the UK a world leader in protection of animals as we leave the EU. This includes increasing maximum penalties for animal cruelty from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and an update of statutory welfare codes. These codes strengthen guidance on how to meet the needs of livestock animals and enhance their welfare.
Ministers are also committed to making any necessary changes to UK law in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is legally recognised once the UK leaves the EU. I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is engaging with relevant organisations and authorities to enhance its policies on this issue further.
Regarding gamebirds, there is additional protection via the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes. The code recommends that when birds are housed or penned, the accommodation should be well constructed and managed and of sufficient size to ensure good health and welfare.
Specifically, the code recommends that barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used and that any system should be appropriately enriched. Keepers are required by law to be familiar with this code, which encourages the adoption of high standards of husbandry. Failure to observe the provisions of this code may be used in support of a prosecution.
These rules are enforced by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, as well as by local authorities, who can both carry out routine welfare inspections and investigate complaints. Prosecutions can be brought where necessary.
I am pleased that the Government has taken action to ban cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare. For example, the use of battery cages for laying hens has been banned since 2012.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.