Consultation on the Animal Welfare Bill
The Government is currently consulting on the draft Animal Welfare Bill. This new legislation was announced after a huge public outcry against the rejection of an amendment to keep the EU’s animal sentience principle in UK law by including it in the EU Withdrawal Bill.
The Bill will “embed the principle that animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and pleasure” and contains an obligation on Ministers to “pay regard to the welfare needs of animals when formulating and implementing government policy.” It also introduces a new maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences.
We all have a chance to shape this legislation, with the consultation closing on 31 January.
The draft Bill is an essential first step and will ensure the UK doesn’t fall behind existing EU requirements to consider animal sentience. However, to meet the Government’s ambition of the UK having the highest animal welfare standards, we need to see a transition away from intensive factory farming, where chickens, pigs, cows and other farm animals are often kept indoors for their entire lives, in cramped conditions and with no chance to fulfil their natural instincts.
This consultation is an opportunity for us all to have our say – and to push the Government to go further. We want this Bill to guarantee that all farm animals will be able to live a good life, as part of a future where higher welfare systems such as free range and organic become the norm rather than the exception.
We’ve summarised our Soil Association response below, which focusses on farm animal welfare. If you’d like to submit your own views to the consultation, you can do so here, and you are welcome to use our responses as a guide for your own individual answers.
List of questions
Questions 5 & 6: definition of ‘sentience’
We do not think a new definition of ‘sentience’ is required.
Questions 7 & 8: definition of ‘animal’
We do not think a new definition of ‘animal’ is required.
Questions 9 & 10: definition of ‘welfare needs’
It is important that the Bill defines ‘welfare needs’. We think this definition should be based upon the ‘five freedoms’ as per the definition used in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and set out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council - but enhanced to include ‘a good life’ for all farm animals.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), the government’s welfare advisors, define three levels of welfare: a life not worth living, a life worth living, and a good life. A ‘good life’ involves more than simply being free from pain or disease. It means ensuring animals can exercise natural instincts and follow their urges to care, graze, root and play.
Questions 11 & 12: policy scope
The duty must apply to all areas of policy making, whether local, national or international. There should also be an extension of the duty to all public bodies not just Ministers and a minor change to the wording to the animal sentience duty itself so that it becomes a duty to have ‘full regard’ to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings.
Questions 13 & 14: level of regard
We want to see greater clarity on the application of the duty to ‘have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy’, and how this relates to the duty to ‘have regard to matters affecting the public interest’.
Questions 15 & 16: overall approach
We want the Government to consider extending the scope of this draft Bill to put into action the ambition for the UK to be a world leader with the highest animal welfare standards, through additional provisions, including but not limited to:
- introducing a framework for delivering ‘a good life’ as defined by the Farm Animal Welfare Council - and a commitment to achieving this over a fixed timescale, for example 10 years.
- introducing mandatory method of production labelling for all meat and dairy as proposed by the Labelling Matters campaign, supported by CIWF, the Soil Association, the RSPCA, and others;
- recognising that overuse of antibiotics in farming which enables livestock to be kept in low-welfare and cramped conditions and adding specific provisions to address this. These should include: a ban on the preventative use of antibiotics; strict limits on ‘critically important’ antibiotics; a ban colistin (a life-saving last resort antibiotic in human medicine); and overall targets to reduce farm antibiotic use 50% by 2020, and 80% by 2050.
The Government needs to take a joined-up approach to animal welfare between this Bill and the forthcoming Agriculture Bill. As part of that, we want the Government to recognise that organic farming provides the highest standards of animal welfare of any farming system – with standards set by law and independently verified. An expansion of organic farming supported by specific organic payments for organic conversion and maintenance needs be one aim of the Agriculture Bill in order to raise farm animal welfare standards across the UK.
Question 17 & 18: maximum sentences for animal cruelty
We support the provisions in the draft Bill to increase the maximum penalty for the specified animal welfare offences.
If you want more detail on any individual points, you can find our submission to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee inquiry into this Bill here.