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Jeremy's Blog 4th November 2021: Animals

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 4th November 2021.

Animal welfare concerns now have an increased prominence, breadth and reach in Government policies, with a political force that should not be underrated. The Government has two animal welfare Bills in Parliament: the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill – each with potentially significant consequences.

The 2017 election crystallised the new moment. The Conservative manifesto commitment to a free vote on hunting was felt a costly misjudgement of the tide – even while promising controls of pet sales and live export for slaughter. Electoral reality and public opinion drive increased interest in animal welfare, albeit naturally in shifting, possibly inconsistent ways.

A longstanding feature of UK politics, public opinion and government have responded to campaigns over sports, pets and farming. Much legislation has followed the 1822 Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle. The RSPCA, the world’s oldest and largest animal welfare organisation, was founded in 1824, becoming Royal in 1840.

As consumers appear to expect animal welfare standards rather than be prepared to pay more for them, policy now unfolds in two ways:

  • the regulatory baseline required by law, likely to rise
  • interventions, such as the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, recognising welfare as a public good meriting payments.

The balance between these will matter.

The Government, with its responsibilities, is caught balancing sentiment and practicality, illustrated by the recent livestock movements consultation. Under its headline of banning the small number of live movements to slaughter on the continent, it proposed significant changes in travel conditions within England and Wales. Responses explaining operational implications led to more thought.

Overlapping with concern for nature, public opinion also shows an intuitive respect for animals, favouring livestock outdoors even if welfare standards and low prices might be better provided indoors. It is more tolerant of disease control but feels the pull of the badger.

Conflicts with other policies include trade and climate change. Pig farmers can testify to the issues if domestic standards are not fully expected for imports but DEFRA is now calling for evidence on welfare labelling. On signing the Global Methane Pledge, the Irish Government aims to reduce the average age of cattle at slaughter, saying that a fall from 27 to 24 months would see a 12.5 per cent reduction in methane emissions.

Perhaps the most explosive issue will be halal slaughter, with amendments possible to the Kept Animals Bill and judicial reviews under the Sentience Bill.

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