Broilers eating© Jim Varney

Shadow Defra secretary Kerry McCarthy has called for an urgent debate on government plans to devolve guidance on farm animal legislation to industry.

She said the government wanted to “wash its hands” of its responsibility for animal welfare.

The poultry sector has piloted a new initiative in which, faced with smaller budgets, Defra asked industry to interpret the Animal Welfare Act, producing updated guidance for farmers to follow.

See also: Guidance on farm animal welfare codes devolved to industry

The British Poultry Council took this work on, and has published an updated document which is currently laid before parliament, and due to come into effect on 27 April.

It will refresh the existing code based on more recent scientific evidence and industry best practice. Government has consulted widely on both devolving the writing of guidelines and the BPC’s initial draft.

Other agricultural sectors are now expected to follow the poultrymeat industry. 

‘Out of date’

Animal rights charities have argued allowing industry to draw up its own code will reduce welfare and make it more difficult to prosecute in cases of animal cruelty.

Compassion in World Farming has accused government of abandoning its animal welfare duties.

But farming bodies have said the current interpretation of the Animal Welfare Act risks falling out of date, and would otherwise never be updated.

Defra has agreed, and said any new guidance would be put out to wide consultation and scrutinised by the Farm Animal Welfare Council before being finalised.

A government response in December 2015 stated: “Defra will be working very closely with industry in drafting each individual piece of guidance and no statutory code will be revoked unless Defra is content that current standards are being maintained.”  

‘Welfare at risk’

Kerry McCarthy said: “This government has failed to keep the codes updated and now wants to wash its hands entirely of this responsibility.

“They have encouraged the industry to make its own rules but will only make this new ‘guidance’ public after the existing statutory codes have been scrapped.”

“Labour is calling for an urgent debate to hold the government accountable for this plan which could put animal welfare standards and consumer confidence at risk.”