A first-of-its-kind report has found that less than three percent of the UK’s estimated 291,000 farms were inspected annually between 2018 and 2021.
Researchers also found that just 0.33 percent of complaints that did get made led to prosecutions of animal cruelty.
In what’s been dubbed “The Enforcement Problem,” investigators have shone a light on shortcomings in both how farms are being monitored, and what happens when legal breaches are discovered.
The joint study comes from Animal Equality UK and The Animal Law Foundation. It highlighted that there is just one inspector for every 205 farms in the UK. This has led to a “worrying lack of oversight and legal enforcement of farms and slaughterhouses across the UK.”
Investigators said that the lack of inspections is due to the current “risk-based” approach. This sees farms deemed “higher risk” be prioritized for inspection. This, they say, leads to the “vast majority of farms and slaughterhouses to simply fly under the radar, allowing animal abuse to go entirely undetected.”
“The Enforcement Problem has been known by those that work in the animal field for a long time,” said Edie Bowles, solicitor and Executive Director of The Animal Law Foundation. “The problem exists across all areas of animal law, but what makes it particularly jarring for farmed animals is not only the extent of the problem, but the constant proclamations that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards on farms and slaughterhouses in the world.”
The reality of UK farms
The UK repeatedly claims to have “world-leading welfare.” But numerous investigations have found that both legal and illegal animal abuse is rife in farms and slaughterhouses.
Animal Equality UK has investigated nearly 50 facilities in the UK. It has filmed pigs being hammered to death, and cows being hit in the face with metal shovels. Calves have been observed being slapped and violently force-fed, and sheep getting caught in slaughterhouse machinery. Its footage has featured in BBC Panorama, The Times, the Guardian, and the Independent, among others.
The report also compiled evidence from investigations conducted by other animal organizations. It found that illegal or substandard practices were found in every one.
Despite overwhelming evidence that animal abuse is commonplace, it is often not investigated by appropriate authorities.
A lack of enforcement
There are around 180 tax-payer funded regulatory bodies responsible for overseeing farm welfare policy enforcement in the UK. These include the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), local authorities, and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
When complaints relating to animal welfare or health were made to these bodies over the four-year period, only 50.45 percent were investigated. Of those that were investigated, a third were found to be breaking the law. However, only one in 300 farms were subsequently prosecuted for animal abuse following initial complaints received.
“Non-compliance is endemic, evidenced time and again through undercover investigations and now further bolstered by the data revealed in this report,” said Abigail Penny, Executive Director of Animal Equality UK.
“Pigs are having their tails cut off, cows are unable to walk or stand, and hens are crammed into overcrowded cages, yet farms are typically receiving little more than a slap on the wrist. These findings are disturbing and should be alarming to any consumer. Animal abusers need to truly be held accountable. Right now, this is evidently not the case.”