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The British livestock industry must provide the highest possible animal welfare standards

3 min read

Measures to ban live exports and raise sentences for animal cruelty must be made law in the new Parliamentary session, writes Henry Smith MP

At a time when co-operation and agreement can often seem so distant, there are plenty of issues in Parliament where there is, in fact, cross-party working. One such issue is the salience of animal welfare. This is something I have seen often as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.

Increasingly, consumers are looking not just at producers to implement higher quality protections for animals, but for government to ensure that the right safeguards are in place. In his first speech as prime minister, Boris Johnson recognised that this is an issue close to the hearts of many in our country.

A key example is ensuring an end to long-distance live animal exports for slaughter and fattening.

Very soon we will no longer be bound by EU restrictions. The Government will therefore have an opportunity to ban the live export trade which has caused immense suffering for too long.

I welcome proposals outlined by environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, at Conservative Conference to ban live exports. And I am encouraged by the secretary of state’s assurances that the high standards to which British farmers produce some of the best quality food anywhere globally will not be compromised in future trade negotiations.

As it stands, calves are exported and can travel as far afield as Spain, in spite of the suffering they endure on such long journeys. Were livestock slaughtered as close as possible to their place of origin, their unnecessary transportation can be replaced by a more humane meat trade.

As a vegetarian for more than three decades, I believe that the importance of greater transparency for consumers on the production methods of what they are eating cannot be underestimated.

A labelling system which includes methods of production of meat and dairy products, indicating the farming method employed, would allow consumers to decide whether they wished to eat particular goods depending on how they were produced.

The cruel and barbaric fattening of live animals for consumption is also worthy of greater attention.

In June last year I secured a Parliamentary debate calling for a ban on imports of foie gras; a ‘product’ derived from fatty livers of ducks or geese after they have been force-fed maize repeatedly, by having a metal tube inserted down their throats two or three times a day.

While domestic production of this so-called delicacy is thankfully banned in this country, the importing of it is still allowed – a double standard we need to put right.

The Queen’s Speech took place last week, and alongside the ceremony which all would surely agree our country does so well, the substance of Her Majesty’s words included an important confirmation of animal welfare priorities.

While some 80% of the approximate 1,000 people prosecuted for animal cruelty annually are convicted, with around 10% of those receiving a custodial sentence, at present the average sentence for animal cruelty is only about three and a half months imprisonment. A greater deterrent is required.

Through the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill I welcome Government’s continued commitment to ensuring increased protections for animals. This legislation will see animal abusers potentially face up to five years in prison, a ten-fold increase on the existing maximum sentence of six months.

This Bill additionally ensures that animals are recognised in domestic law as sentient beings, and that the welfare of sentient animals is taken into consideration in relevant Government policy-making.

The last 10 years have seen great progress in animal welfare. Action taken by this Government as we leave the European Union can ensure enhanced animal protections in the years ahead.

Henry Smith is Conservative MP for Crawley and co-chair of the Animal Welfare APPG

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