Animal welfare in British food production

In a time where 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.

Consumers are looking increasingly 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 on the steps of Downing Street just a few months ago 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.

It is an issue which I have campaigned alongside parliamentary colleagues and welcome one of our number, the now-Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, outlining plans at the Conservative Party Conference to ban live exports.

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 at least a somewhat more humane meat trade.

As a vegetarian for over three decades, the importance of ensuring greater transparency so that consumers have more information at their disposal about 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 of 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.

Much has been made of the recent prorogation of Parliament with particular regard to Brexit. Prorogation is of course necessary before a Queen’s Speech, which sets out a Government’s legislative agenda. But what of the existing proposed legislation which are only part-way through their journey to becoming law?

The Government’s Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill falls into such a category. After being introduced in the House of Commons in June of this year, it is of vital importance that it is carried over into the new parliamentary session. If it does not, its progress will be lost, and if the measures are re-introduced they will have to start right from the very beginning.

The Bill means that animal abusers could face up to five years in prison, a ten-fold increase on the existing maximum sentence of six months. The courts will be able to take a tougher approach to instances including gross neglect of farm animals.

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

Henry Smith MP