[ 27 July 2018 ]
Britain is a world leader and pioneer in animal welfare
Animal protection index
The UK has some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world, according to the World Animal Protection, an international non-profit animal welfare organisation. Its “Animal Protection Index” measures each country’s efforts to protect animals with legislation, improve animal welfare and recognise animals’ emotional and cognitive abilities. The UK achieves the highest ranking, alongside Austria, Switzerland and New Zealand.
The first animal welfare legislation
Britain introduced the first ever animal welfare legislation with the 1822 'Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle'.
The first animal welfare charity
Shortly thereafter, MPs, clergy and William Wilberforce, the slave trade abolitionist, founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the world’s first animal welfare charity, in a London coffee shop in 1824. It later became the RSPCA following Queen Victoria’s patronage.
Cruelty of frogs
At a time when the burning and hanging of cats was a French national pass time, the UK was busy setting up rescue centres, such as the still operational Mayhew Animal Home, established in 1886 to protect "the lost and starving dogs and cats of London".
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was established in 1898.
A century of animal protection
Britain spent the twentieth century introducing world-first animal protection legislation such as the Performing Animals Act 1925; the Pet Animals Act 1951 (amended 1983); the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963; and the Breeding of Dogs Act 1991.
International gold standard – Animal Welfare Act 2006
In 2007 the most significant piece of animal welfare legislation came into force, making it an offence to fail to ensure the welfare of an animal. In Britain, you have to be actively kind to animals. If you are responsible for an animal, you must ensure it has a suitable environment and diet, allow it to express itself (really), have companionship, be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease. Penalties include £20,000 and/or a prison sentence.
The UK has driven much animal welfare regulation from the EU, and the RSPCA campaigned against Brexit (in all but name) to ensure Britain would remain a positive influence in EU rule-making in favour of animals.
However, Brexit gives Britain the opportunity to ban live animal export from the EU (something it cannot do as part of the Single Market) although such a move could still be overruled by the WTO.
CCTV in abattoirs
In May this year, CCTV became mandatory in all abattoirs in England, delivering on a manifesto commitment. Official vets will have unrestricted access to all footage. In addition, the UK government stiffened penalties for animal cruelty to what some may call draconian, including a ten-fold increase in the maximum prison sentence.
A survey of 14 countries by a Canadian think tank found that Britain had one of the "most aggressive" stances to discourage animal fighting and the training of animals to be aggressive .
Private sector initiatives have always been the underlying driver of animal welfare in Britain. Today, the Red Tractor scheme covers 90% of British pigs. This is almost as powerful as black letter legislation. For instance, because the scheme bans castration of male pigs, just 2% of male pigs are castrated in the UK, compared to 94% in Sweden, 95% in Denmark, 80% in Netherland and 20% in Spain.
"I’ve just come back from the Amazon, one of Earth’s natural wonders, where both animals and people are suffering at the hands of criminals who are committing horrible wildlife crimes. What I saw has only sharpened my determination to combat the blight of the illegal wildlife trade.
Boris Johnson, endangered politician, February 2018
Toughest on illegal poaching
The British government has hosted a series of meetings this year to combat the illegal wildlife trade, culminating in the London 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trading Conference in October.
In May, the government published its Ivory Bill, which, when passed, will be one of the toughest bans on ivory sales in the world.
Leaving the EU opens a series of opportunities to strengthen Britain’s animal welfare further and set an example to the world. It could ban the live export of animals, currently protected under the EU’s rules of unfettered free movement of goods, including sentient animals. It could enforce the labelling of Halal meat, which currently has a religious exemption to the EU’s humane slaughter rules. And by forging bilateral deals, Britain would be able to enforce minimum standards of animal welfare and dignity on anyone wishing to sell to the British consumer.