June 29, 2005

Welfare Laws "Failing" Animals

A major new animal welfare report published today has concluded that some UK and EU legislation is failing to protect the world’s wildlife.

The new RSPCA study draws on Government statistics and highlights 10 key areas of major concern where improvements should be made.

Researchers, who hope the study will act as a benchmark for welfare standards in the future, have used the figures to illustrate the level of protection afforded to animals and where this could be improved.

Animal welfare issues of particular concern include the fur trade, the incidental capture of porpoises and dolphins in fishing nets, animals used in research and testing and wild caught birds.

The charity has now pledged that these issues, along with new areas of concern, will be revisited and compared on an annual basis.

The landmark report, entitled "Facing the facts: behind the scenes of 10 animal welfare areas", has revealed some disturbing figures, including the number of endangered species of wild caught birds imported into the UK, which at 83,498 is more than ten times as many as were imported in 2000 (7,732).

However, researchers have also discovered a number of areas where "promising" improvements have been made.

The report revealed caged egg production has fallen over the last 10 years from 86% to 66% of the consumer market. Meanwhile, free-range eggs have increased from 11% to 27% and barn produced eggs are up from 4% to 7%.

Authors of the report said the "encouraging trend" showed consumers are moving away from buying eggs produced by hens in battery cages but warned a commitment by the government to ban all battery cages by 2012 is urgently required.

Head of the RSPCA’s external affairs department, David Bowles, said: "This report, which is the first ever audit on animal welfare standards, shows that some legislation is failing to protect animal welfare as well as it should.

"Something must be done as soon as possible to reverse the trends of increasing animal suffering.

"For each key issue we have suggested ways animal welfare could be improved. These mostly apply to the UK government, often involving amendments to current legislation. We have also highlighted areas where the public can lobby the government for much-needed improvements to animal welfare."

The key issues raised by researchers included the dramatic increase of will feline fur imports which have rocketed to a total worth of £1,061,000 a year compared to just £25,000 in 1994.

The number of dead cetaceans being washed up on beaches was also highlighted as the figures have increased from 360 in 1994 to 782 in 2004. The authors of the report said it could be attributed to an increase in certain methods of fishing which can lead to higher levels of bycatch, the incidental capture of dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) during fishing activities.

Researchers also expressed concerns about the number of animals being used in laboratories and revealed the number of procedures using GM animals has increased from less than 200,000 to more than 700,000 in 2003.

For more information about the animal welfare audit or the work of the RSPCA visit the charity’s website at www.rspca.org.uk