Urgent reassurance needed on welfare codes, say vets

The government decision to revoke farm animal welfare codes risks undermining public confidence in animal welfare standards on English farms and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is calling for urgent reassurance.

When Defra consulted in 2013 on proposals to move away from statutory codes to non-statutory, industry-led guidance BVA broadly supported more flexibility to allow for guidance to be updated more regularly and in light of new welfare science, but raised a number of questions regarding enforcement and, critically, around the definition of “industry”. BVA emphasised that veterinary surgeons, farmers, animal welfare scientists with species-specific knowledge, industry bodies and other groups must all be involved and consulted.

BVA also warned Defra of implications in relation to the message conveyed to stakeholders by such a change and the value attached to the welfare codes by the government.

Commenting, BVA President Sean Wensley, said:

“It is essential that any changes to the welfare codes do not undermine public confidence in the high animal welfare standards set for English farms. Although BVA broadly supported the idea of moving to a more flexible system that could take account of new animal welfare science, we maintained that a range of expertise must be used to draw up new guidance.

“We are pleased that there will be no changes to the legislation that underpins animal welfare but it is unclear where the checks and balances now lie. It is vital that Defra puts measures in place urgently to provide that reassurance.

“The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has suggested that it would be possible for the fundamental principles to be laid down in statutory codes which are subject to parliamentary scrutiny with operational details being set out in guidance. This idea may be worth further exploration to allow both the flexibility required to reflect new animal welfare science and the public confidence that the statutory welfare codes currently provide.”

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