New laws to ban live exports and recognise animal sentience

Government plans to ban live animal exports for slaughter, recognise animal sentience and crack down on livestock worrying by dogs have been confirmed in the Queen’s Speech.

The Animal (Welfare) Sentience Bill and the Kept Animals Bill were among the items of legislation outlined in Her Majesty’s address to parliament on Tuesday (11 May).

The bills will be scrutinised and voted on by MPs over the next year.

See also: Welsh and Scottish unions seek clarity on future farm policy

The speech set out the government’s priorities, which include legislation “to ensure the UK has, and promotes, the highest standards of animal welfare”.

To meet the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto commitment, the Kept Animals Bill could see a ban on live animal exports from England and Wales, if the animal is going direct to slaughter or for further fattening and slaughter within six months.

But farmers have argued that such a ban on exports would remove vital competition from the market, leading to lower prices.

They add that journeys to abattoirs in northern Europe are often shorter than within the UK.

Industry reaction

NFU president Minette Batters said she had 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.

“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,” Mrs Batters said.

The Animal (Welfare) Sentience Bill would recognise animals’ capacity to be aware of feelings and sensations and is expected to be introduced to parliament on Thursday (13 May).

Christopher Price, Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) chief executive, said: “We strongly support the government’s intention to recognise animal sentience in law.

“The future of the UK livestock sector depends on high welfare systems becoming mainstream.

“But farmers aren’t going to be able to compete on any other basis, and that requires significant government support and investment.

“A duty to take account of animal sentience in policy making should go a long way in encouraging that.”

Livestock worrying

Police will also be given new powers to tackle livestock worrying amid concerns over a rise in dog attacks on sheep.

The NFU welcomed the government’s plan for better powers to tackle livestock worrying and a pledge to introduce laws that crack down on hare coursing.

NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts said: “I am eager to see the detail of the plans and work with government to best implement them, engaging with the police and local authorities to ensure a co-ordinated approach.”

The details will be set out in the forthcoming Kept Animals Bill, to be tabled soon.

Defra says it is also “examining” the use of farrowing crates for pigs and cages for poultry.

Farmers will be offered incentives to improve animal welfare through future farming policy.

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