Earlier this month, it emerged that newly-appointed UK Prime Minister Liz Truss had sacked Zac Goldsmith as environment minister.
In a letter sent to staff at The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), seen by the Guardian, Goldsmith said he was “very sad” to be leaving his position.
While there is still much progress to be made in terms of animal welfare in the UK, Goldsmith has been responsible for a number of developments in the area.
He played a key part in establishing last year’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare. This contained proposals to bring in legislation to better the lives of animals in the UK and abroad.
One of these was the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. The Bill, which was enacted into law in April, recognized lobsters, crabs, and other crustaceans as sentient beings capable of feeling emotions like pain.
The significance of the animal welfare plan is debatable. Much of it is vague, has yet to be enacted, and is arguably insubstantial (sentient lobsters can still be boiled alive, for example). There is no doubt, however, that Goldsmith was one of the few government figures taking some tangible steps to support animals.
Abandonment of animal welfare bills
Following the sacking of Goldsmith, there have been rumors that a number of pieces of legislation from the Action Plan for Animal Welfare could be dropped entirely by the new government.
One of these was the Animals (Abroad) Bill, which was officially discarded last week. This would have stopped people from importing parts of animals killed in trophy hunts, as well as implemented a ban on imports of fur and foie gras.
Lorraine Platt, Co-Founder of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, told Plant Based News (PBN) that she was “disappointed” to hear that bills are being dropped.
“Fur farms and foie gras farms have been banned for years on the grounds of their unacceptable cruelty. It is, therefore, illogical that we are still able to import these products. This contradiction needs to be addressed.”
The Conservative Manifesto outlined plans to put an end to live exports for fattening and slaughter under the Kept Animals Bill. This was due to be debated in parliament this month, but now looks set to be abandoned.
‘We hope the new Government will reconsider’
“We have seen countless undercover investigations over the last ten years of calves exported to foreign countries in unspeakably terrible conditions at just a few weeks old,” Platt said. “Only legislation can prevent this from happening in the future.”
“We hope that the new Government will reconsider dropping these proposals, which are widely popular with voters and the public at large.”
There are also concerns that the government could be set to drop promises to consult on the use of cages for egg-laying hens and female pigs.
Currently, around 42 percent of chickens used in the egg industry are kept in cages. At least 60 percent of sows are raised on factory farms, where they are kept in farrowing crates for around five weeks after giving birth. These offer her no room to turn around. Piglets suckle from a small area next to the cage known as the “creep,” and the mother is offered no chance to access her young.
PETA’s Vice President of Programmes Elisa Allen told PBN that keeping animals in these cages causes them “immense suffering and misery.” She added that the UK will “fall behind other nations” if the government doesn’t put an end to these practices.
Liz Truss’ history on animal welfare
While it would be difficult to argue that Boris Johnson was an animal welfare champion, it’s undeniable that the previous government did at least take some – albeit small – steps to make some improvements.
Johnson’s wife Carrie, who regularly showed interest in animals and the environment, was reportedly influential in ensuring that welfare was part of government conversation.
But Liz Truss has shown no such interest in animal welfare.
She actively opposed the UK’s fox hunting ban and attempted to scrap statutory farm welfare codes in 2016.
Truss also recently appointed MP Mark Spencer to Defra. He played a role in blocking a bill that would have banned the advertising of cruel elephant “attractions” abroad.
In August of this year, it was reported that she refused to recognize the importance of animal welfare in post-Brexit trade deals.
George Eustace, who was the environmental secretary at the time, said: “It is fair to say there were some challenges I had in getting Liz Truss to recognize the importance of animal welfare in particular and that we should reflect it in trade agreements.”
When Truss was the head of Defra in 2015, she said that she removed 34,000 farm inspections a year. She described the move as “vital for our £100bn food and farming industry.”
UK animal welfare
When unveiling its action plan for animal welfare last year, the government claimed the UK has “world-leading” animal welfare. But the global bar for animal standards is very, very low.
The fact that our animal welfare laws are slightly better than many other countries means very little to the lives of the animals.
Around 85 percent of UK land animals are factory farmed, where they inevitably suffer miserable and painful lives. Pigs are kept in cages too small for them to turn around in, and chickens often have space no bigger than an A4 sheet of paper in cramped sheds.
While animals are, in theory, stunned before being slaughtered, this is often done improperly. Animal Aid conducted investigations into 11 UK slaughterhouses in the UK and found that pigs were improperly stunned in almost every one. The animals are often still alive when they have their throats cut, and some are even conscious when plunged into very hot scalding tanks.
While the country has made some progress for animals in recent years, such as banning fur farming and cosmetics animal testing, there is still a long way to go in the fight for animal rights.
The proposed welfare bills may have been insubstantial in parts, but they were at least a step in the right direction. It is hugely concerning that the government is moving away from the smallest steps to improve the lives of our animals.