Defra launches Action Plan to ‘revolutionise’ animal welfare policy

Defra has launched a new Animal Welfare Action Plan that it says will ‘revolutionise the treatment of animals in the UK and introduce measures to protect the welfare of animals abroad’.

The plan, covering farm animals, pets, and wildlife, aims to firmly establish the UK as a global leader in animal welfare in the post-Brexit era, setting out a number of policy changes to ‘strengthen animal welfare standards and reinforce the UK’s position as a global champion of animal rights’.

It includes a number of proposed changes aimed at improving the welfare of farmed animals, including:

  • Ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter and introducing new measures to improve welfare during transport
  • Giving the police more powers to protect farm animals from dangerous or out of control dogs
  • Examining the use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs
  • Improving animal welfare at slaughter
    Incentivising farmers to improve animal health and welfare through future farming policy under the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway.

You can view the document HERE

The plan covers more than 40 topics under five themes – sentience and enforcement, international trade and advocacy, farm animals, companion animals and wild animals – and includes a mixture of legislative and non-legislative changes.

To improve consumer transparency, there will be a review of labelling laws, while the new policies on animal sentience will bring new Ministerial accountability mechanisms into law to give greater assurance that animals are considered and recognised as sentient beings.

Further actions include banning the import of hunting trophies, cracking down on pet theft and puppy smuggling and banning keeping primates as pets.

The Government will be introducing a series of Bills, following Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech, focusing on animal sentience, kept animals here in the UK and the welfare of animals. Defra said there will also be a series of non-legislative changes to promote animal welfare over the coming months, with a number of regulations due to be brought forward as early as this year.

The Government has pledged to ensure that ‘animal welfare is not compromised in all our future trade negotiations’.

London,,United,Kingdom,-,December,6,2020:,Uk’s,Secretary,OfLaunching the plan, Defra Secretary George Eustice said: “We are a nation of animal lovers and were the first country in the world to pass animal welfare laws.

“Our Action Plan for Animal Welfare will deliver on our manifesto commitment to ban the export of live animal exports for slaughter and fattening, prohibit keeping primates as pets and bring in new laws to tackle puppy smuggling.
“We will lead on the protection of animals abroad by implementing the world’s toughest ivory ban and banning the import of hunting trophies to protect iconic species

“As an independent nation we are now able to go further than ever to build on our excellent track record.”


NFU president Minette Batters said, if the Government wants to be a global leader in animal welfare standards, it must apply the same standards to imports.

“British farmers are proud to have some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world and it is clear the government wants to be a global leader in this area,” she said. “However, we want to see the same energy and leadership that is being proposed for protecting endangered species and wildlife crime to be applied to our asks in equivalence in trade.

“I have serious concerns about the government’s intention to raise the bar at home, without any certainty that the same standards will be applied to imports. There are still many practices allowed in countries we are currently negotiating with that are banned here, on welfare grounds.

“For example, it is not uncommon to see journey times for live animals in Australia exceed 24 hours without access to feed or water. In comparison, the government has recently consulted on reducing domestic journey times in the UK to eight hours.

“It’s also important to recognise that two sectors the government has singled out, poultry and pigs, have some of the highest engagement levels in farm assurances schemes, meaning they are managed and audited against robust animal welfare standards.

“Just over a quarter of eggs sold in retail last year were from enriched cages. If this production system were to be banned in this country then there is every prospect that the demand would simply be fulfilled by importing eggs from countries with lower standards.

“If the government is to raise the welfare bar here, it must do so for food imports. It would simply be hypocritical to do otherwise. We cannot have a situation where British farmers adhere to some of the highest standards in the world, only to be undercut by imports that barely meet the lowest rung on the ladder.

NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts welcomed the commitment to introduce better powers to tackle livestock worrying and new laws to crack down on hare coursing.

Responding to these commitments,  said: “I’m pleased that the government has recognised more can be done to tackle rural crime, which continues to plague farmers and rural communities. “This plan to explore better powers to tackle livestock worrying and a pledge to introduce laws that crack down on hare coursing are significant steps that must be recognised,” he said.

The NPA said it would work with Defra to achieve a sensible outcome for members on the measures directly affecting the pig industry.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We welcome the clarity this announcement brings on the direction of travel, although the full details on some key policy areas, including the future of farrowing crates, are yet to emerge.

“There is no doubt that some of these proposed measures could have a significant impact on the pig sector, particularly if they are brought in too quickly and do not fully consider the implications.

“This document has been described as the basis for discussion and we will now work closely with Defra to ensure we achieve sensible outcomes for members in all policy areas that will affect them.

“The impact of any new legislation on the competitiveness of the industry must be taken into account. This includes ensuring that equivalent standards apply to pork imports.”

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “These announcements will make a real and lasting difference to animals’ welfare, so we’re pleased the Government is committed to improving animals’ lives in the UK and abroad.

“We can no longer ignore the inextricable link that exists between the way we treat animals, our own health and that of the planet – but to really achieve a step change, it will take courage from right across Government.

“We urge the government to put animal welfare at the heart of policy making and make these announcements just the beginning of an evolving, holistic animal health and welfare strategy.”

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