Plenty of positives but more to do in Labour's animal welfare proposals
In the past twelve months, animal welfare has never been far from the headlines. We've had calls for tougher sentencing for animal cruelty, an outcry over Theresa May's support for hunting, and a row over animal sentience. The Government have responded to this by launching an Animal Welfare Bill, , and announcing a consultation on banning third-party puppy sales.
On Valentine's Day, it was Labour's turn. They published a list of 50 animal welfare proposals, covering everything from hunting and shooting to animals in research and slaughterhouses. . It's great to see commitments to strengthen the and to ban the intensive rearing of gamebirds for shooting, and these show just how far the conversation on animal welfare has moved on. However, welcome though the proposals are, we believe they could go a little further.
But first, let's look at the positives. Labour propose to "enhance and strengthen the Hunting Act". We know that hunts have found a variety of ways around the Hunting Act. , and then call it an accident when their hounds - which are still trained to follow animal scents rather than something like aniseed - chase a fox. say they're conducting research when they're going out to hunt and kill stags. Parliament is passing legislation to ensure those convicted of animal cruelty face up to five years in prison yet the maximum punishment for someone convicted of hunting is a fine. The public is increasingly aware of these issues, and this is reflected in Labour's proposals.
The call for a ban on intensive rearing of gamebirds is also welcome. Approximately , with around half of these imported from the continent as eggs or chicks. Birds are kept in cramped conditions, denied even the welfare standards afforded to poultry. All of this just so they can be shot, and often left to rot in the countryside. An industry built on so much suffering has no place in modern Britain.
As well as this, plans to end the , make hunting a reportable crime, and appoint an 'Animal Welfare Commissioner' are all positive.
There are, however, areas where Labour could do better.
There is no mention of banning , despite a Government petition amassing over 120,000 signatures and the recent decision to end grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor. There was also no reference to a ban on snares, despite overwhelming evidence of the suffering they inflict. Proposals to strengthen regulations on greyhound racing also fall short of what we would like to see. The greyhound racing industry has had chance after chance to clean up its act and has still failed to do so. . Finally, the proposed three-year sentence for dog fighting offences falls short of the five years we believe necessary.
It's been heartening to see political parties taking on board how strongly the public feel about animal welfare. The proposals from Labour are very welcome, and will help move the discussion forward so that rather than just aiming to hold on to what protection animals are currently afforded, we work to strengthen those protections.