The great animal rights betrayal
Government scraps protection for
hens, game birds, pigs, cows, sheep � and circus animals
Saturday, 13 November 2010
Millions of hens will have their beaks mutilated; game birds will remain
in cages; pigs, sheep and cows in abattoirs will lose crucial protection
from abuse; badgers will be culled and lions, tigers and
other wild animals will continue to perform in the big top.
Labour's environment minister,
Jim Fitzpatrick, said he was 'minded' to ban performing wild animals
after research showed that 94 per cent of the public supported a ban
In a series of little-noticed moves, the Coalition has scrapped
or stalled Labour initiatives to improve animal welfare some weeks before
they were due to come into force.
The Agriculture minister James
Paice, who part-owns a farm in Cambridgeshire, has been behind most of the
moves � which have infuriated welfare groups. In the latest of a series of
controversial decisions, Mr Paice this week delayed by five years a ban on
beak mutilations of laying hens due to come into force in January.
Peter Stevenson: Coalition stance on industrial dairy farms will see cows
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Millions of hens have
part of their beaks sliced off to stop them pecking at each other in
confined units, but campaigners say there is no need for this if flocks are
The delay in the beak-trimming ban emerged in a press
statement headed "New safeguards for chickens", which hailed the
introduction of a limit on overcrowding of meat chickens which will have
little impact. The RSPCA said it was "extremely disappointed" by the
decision, describing beak trimming as "an insult to hens' welfare".
Another policy reversal, affecting hundreds of thousands of game birds, was
taken following lobbying from the Countryside Alliance and other shooting
groups. Mr Paice rewrote the new game-bird farming welfare code to remove a
ban on keeping them in cages.
In an additional move, the Department
of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) halted a series of
prosecutions of abattoir operators based on secret footage which caught
slaughterhouse workers kicking cattle, pigs and sheep. Tim Smith, head of
the Food Standards Agency, which enforces slaughterhouse standards, said of
the images: "The cruelty on show is the worst I have seen." Defra said the
prosecutions would have failed because the footage had been obtained by
trespass. Animal Aid, which shot the film, described the decision as
Furthermore, the Government is reducing the presence of
official veterinarians at livestock markets, to the concern of the British
Veterinary Association. According to the BVA, Mr Paice has also expressed
doubt over plans compulsorily to label kosher and halal meat from animals
killed without being stunned.
Defra has been stalling on a ban on
the use of wild animals in circuses, which Labour indicated in March it
would introduce, keeping 40 tigers, elephants, zebras and other animals
performing tricks. Defra says it will announce its plans "later in the
Mr Paice again pleased farmers and angered welfare groups
by overturning Labour's opposition to a badger cull and proposing farmers
trap or shoot the protected mammal in order to curb the spread of bovine TB,
which can be spread by badgers. He downgraded a research
programme into vaccination, an alternative method of controlling the disease
that killed 25,000 cattle last year. A cull is likely to provoke widespread
Another Conservative proposal � to hold a free vote on
overturning the ban on fox hunting � will be fiercely opposed.
Current concern, however, is greatest about the U-turns on farm animals
because of the huge numbers involved. While there are no authoritative
figures, the proposed game-bird cage ban would have improved the lives of
hundreds of thousands of the 40 million game birds bred annually for
shooting. Beak trimming is estimated to take place on 20 million of the UK's
29 million laying flock. Tabling plans to limit the keeping of broiler
chickens to 39kg per square metre, a more crowded level than the industry's
basic standard of 38kg, Defra revealed it would ban trimming by hot blades
but allow the less brutal but still painful infra-red method.
Government's vets on the Farm Animal Welfare Council had recommended
allowing infra-red trimming because of the egg industry's failure to prepare
for the ban, which had been scheduled for eight years.
World Farming was "deeply disappointed" by the decision. Its chief policy
adviser, Peter Stevenson, said: "It is frustrating that the egg industry has
not managed to meet the 2011 deadline. At the same time as the British
industry has been failing to phase out beak trimming, the Austrian industry
has successfully reduced the practice so that now less than 2 per cent of
hens are beak trimmed."
Animal Aid's campaign manager Kate Fowler
said: "The Coalition Government has wasted no time in removing a raft of
popular measures that provided important protection for farmed and wild
"It seems the Lib Dems can't or won't rein in the Tories. The
commitment to repealing the Hunting Act is the most high profile part of the
Government's anti-animal welfare package. But badgers, animals at markets,
game birds and animals in circuses are also under threat. As for
slaughterhouse cruelty, if this Government's vets can't or won't take action
and the Government won't prosecute, then there is no one to stop
slaughterhouses becoming a free-for-all."
Mr Paice said: "These
comments are surprising and disappointing. Cutting bureaucracy doesn't
equate to poorer welfare for animals � we listen to expert groups and always
base decisions on robust scientific evidence, including that of the Farm
Animal Welfare Council. As far as bovine TB is concerned, these groups
appear to ignore the welfare of cattle."
Issue: Keeping of game birds such as pheasants in cages.
Number of animals: affected Hundreds of thousands.
Last government policy: In one of its last acts in power, on 15 March
2010, Labour introduced a new Code of Practice for "game bird" production
which in effect would have banned the use of battery cages for breeding
pheasants within months.
What the Coalition has done: Animal Welfare
minister James Paice withdrew the code and replaced it with a
new version which allowed "enriched" cages to remain. The decision
followed lobbying from shooting organisations, such as the Countryside
Alliance and the Game Farmers' Association.
RSPCA comment: "The
RSPCA is concerned that the Government has overturned expert recommendations
against the use of cages to breed game birds in England. The Society is
calling for proper scientific research to establish how to best meet the
birds' needs under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act. In the meantime, the
aim is to persuade the industry to act in accordance with the scientific
principles of welfare and avoid using cages."
Issue: Use of performing wild animals such as tigers and elephants.
How many animals affected: Around 40. Four British circuses use wild
animals: the Great British Circus, which has tigers, lions, camels and
zebras; Peter Jolly's Circus (camels, zebras, snakes and crocodiles); Circus
Mondao (camels and zebras); and Bobby Roberts Circus (camels and
What was going to happen?: On 25 March 2010, Labour's
environment minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, said he was "minded" to ban
performing wild animals after research showed that 94 per cent of the public
supported a ban.
What the Coalition has done: The Coalition said it
was considering whether to proceed and would announce its position "in the
autumn". James Paice told the Commons he was sympathetic to a ban but said
his colleague Lord Henley was mulling over issues.
"The RSPCA believes the circus is no place for a wild animal. It does not
believe that wild animals should be subjected to the confinement, constant
transportation and abnormal social groups associated with circus life. The
UK Government promised three years ago that wild animals in travelling
circuses would be banned � yet lions, tigers, elephants and
other animals still tour the UK. We want to see the urgent introduction of
regulations under the Animal Welfare Act."
Issue: Cruelty against pigs, sheep and cattle by abattoir workers.
Number of animals affected: 29 million.
What was going to
happen?: Prosecutions had been started against four operators at five
abattoirs, and nine workers, following an undercover investigation by an
animal welfare charity, Animal Aid. It found poor conditions at six of seven
slaughterhouses it investigated between January 2009 and April 2010: footage
showed animals being kicked, slapped, stamped, and picked up by fleeces and
ears and thrown into stunning pens. Some sheep had their throats cut while
not properly stunned.
What the Coalition has done: The Department
for Food and Rural Affairs dropped the prosecutions, saying it had become
aware of legal precedents where courts had refused to accept "unlawfully
obtained video footage". Instead, the Food Standards Agency has asked the
370 slaughterhouses in England and Wales to install CCTV
RSPCA comment: The RSPCA does not wish to comment on
specific court cases.
Issue: Spread of bovine TB
from wild badgers to cattle.
How many animals affected: 6,000
badgers could be killed in the first year.
What was going to happen: In
July 2008, the then Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, ruled out a cull,
saying a cull would worsen rates of bovine TB outside of culling areas.
Instead he committed �20m more into trials of a vaccination programme for
badgers in six areas.
What the Coalition has done: Proposed that
farmers in areas of heavy TB infestation cull badgers by cage-trapping and
shooting them, or by "free shooting" as animals emerge from their setts. It
has scaled back trial vaccinations to one area.
RSPCA comment: "On
the basis of the current science, welfare concerns and practicality, any
decision for a widespread cull of badgers would be totally unacceptable.
Farmers or any non-statutory agency carrying out a cull... would make the
welfare issues involved in killing badgers worse. It would be near
impossible to police or monitor such a cull and could make enforcement of
the Protection of Badgers Act very difficult."
Issue: Mutilation of laying hens.
Number of animals affected: 20
What was going to happen?: Labour decided to end beak
trimming, which is carried out to prevent laying hens pecking and
cannibalising each other in cramped battery cages. A ban enacted eight years
ago was due to come into force on 1 January 2011.
What the Coalition
has done: After the egg industry said it was not prepared for the end of
beak trimming, the Coalition will delay a complete ban by at least five
years, until 2016. Instead, the Government banned trimming with hot blades
and allowed another technology which still causes pain � infra-red.
RSPCA comment: "The RSPCA is extremely disappointed that no specific date
has been set for a ban on beak trimming for laying hens. The mutilation of
all livestock is undesirable."