Yesterday, Her Majesty the Queen delivered her annual Speech at the State Opening of Parliament – which outlines the Government’s priorities for the year ahead.
Whilst animal welfare was indeed mentioned, the picture is still unclear for many animals suffering nationwide. We have reviewed DEFRA’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare and picked out the key highlights that reflect FOUR PAWS vision to #LiveKinder. Where should we start? Let's start with the good news first.
In its 2019 manifesto, the Conservative Party set out several animal welfare commitments including new laws on animal sentience. Now, in 2021, we welcome the news that animal sentience will finally be recognised by the Government, acknowledging a vertebrate's capacity to feel pain, distress and pleasure. By implementing the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, our Government promises to “lead the way in animal sentience by putting it at the heart of policy making and strengthening the penalties for those who abuse animals”.
However – In addition to vertebrates, it would be wrong to omit animals such as octopus and lobster from the bill, especially given the growing scientific research on their intelligence and capability to feel pain. We look forward to the Government’s commissioned research on these animals and hope this leads to their addition to the law.
As a step towards protecting and enhancing animal welfare for farm animals, we are delighted to see that the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter will no longer be permitted in the UK through the Kept Animals Bill. Although briefly mentioned, we also want to see definitive legislation on welfare in transport, such as setting maximum journey times, temperature control and space allowances for animals.
In conjunction with newly introduced mandatory cat microchipping, plans reveal a complete review of the current microchip databases for dogs and cats, with a view of introducing improvements. 8 out of 10 stray cats sent to rescue centres in the UK are not microchipped, so we hope with this new law we can help reunite lost cats with their owners and relieve the burden on cat rescue charities.
Primates as pets
In addition to ending live exports, the Kept Animals Bill will also address “ending the low welfare practice of keeping primates as pets”. As an impressive start to tackling the UK’s exotic pet trade, we hope the Government build on this momentum and ensures strict guidelines for procuring a license for primate ownership are established (i.e., no breeding or selling of primates). The Government are also considering “whether these restrictions should apply to other wild animals that are kept as pets”. We commend this step in the right direction and hope to see consultations on this topic in the future.
Foie gras ban
While the production of foie gras by force feeding is illegal in the UK, the Government have stated that they are “committed to building a clear evidence base to inform decisions on banning the import or sale of foie gras”. As you can imagine, we hope Government will provide further information on this subject with the overall outcome of a complete ban!
The Government have promised to crack down on pet theft by setting up a taskforce to tackle this issue. This taskforce will reportedly “build a clear evidence base of the scale of the issue, considering causes, prevention, reporting, enforcement, prosecution and sentencing, while making recommendations on ways to improve the situation”. This is a positive step for the families devastated by their furry friends being stolen for profit.
As we build back better in the tourism industry, we are pleased to see legislation “banning the advertising and offering for sale of specific, unacceptable practices abroad”. The action plan has identified elephant riding as one of these practices, and we look forward to seeing if further activities such as tiger selfies are included in this ban.
The bad news...
Meaningful legislation is still needed to protect thousands of animals, from those on farms to those wild and companion animals that are being traded across borders. Now that we have left the European Union, we are starting to negotiate trade deals with other countries around the world, and it's critical that those deals ensure animal welfare standards are kept high and we do not compromise on such an important issue to the British public.
The Government proposes that it will “Build on its reputation as a global leader for international advocacy on animal welfare and ensure that our high animal welfare standards are not compromised in our trade negotiations”, and we are here to help achieve these ambitions for animals.
You can read the full speech here.
We’re encouraged to see an introduction to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, Kept Animals Bill and Animals Abroad Bill, with multiple references to improving animal welfare. However, we have been campaigning tirelessly alongside other NGOs for years now with much of this legislation having been promised since 2019. It will be frustrating to see it feature in yet another speech and remain far from a reality, so we will continue campaigning to ensure the effective implementation of these new laws.
Fur import ban
After our recent hand-in of over 1 million signatures to Downing Street, we were dismayed to see the import and sales of fur not get a mention in 2021’s Queen Speech. With its apparent exclusion from a wider animal welfare bill and the failure of the Fur Trade Prohibition Bill, we must keep the pressure on to ensure our Prime Minister brings in a #FurFreeBritain,
Trophy hunting import and export ban
Through the Animals Abroad Bill, Government promise to “Ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals abroad”. As the Prime Minister himself has personally pledged to “end this barbaric practice”, it is no surprise to see trophy hunting's third iteration in the Queen’s Speech.
However – We are calling on the Government to bring in a total ban on trophy hunting imports, as are 85% of voters. This ‘partial’ ban currently being considered leaves out numerous species including the Cape Buffalo (one of Africa’s Big Five), a species of zebra and reindeer. Even worse, this ban would allow the major loophole of allowing canned lion hunting to persist, something even mainstream hunters disapprove of!
This is not a ban; At best it represents no change to the current system. At worst it opens the door to shooting critically endangered species such as black rhinos. We must ensure this ban is comprehensive in scope with no provisions for exceptions, such as trophies hunted under a supposed ‘conservation enhancement exemption’. A similar ‘conservation enhancement’ principle was adopted in the US and led to several black rhino trophies being imported. When this began, there were approximately 5,000 black rhinos in the world. Now, there are currently a little over 3,000.
Act now for animals
We have joined a coalition with over 50 animal welfare charities to ensure the right animal welfare legislation is enacted in the UK.
As leaders in animal welfare and science – through this green paper – we offer our expertise and commitment to the Government to work with them, to build a world-leading animal welfare strategy, fit for the 21st century and deserving of this nation of animal lovers.