I understand the strength of feeling about the issue and I am committed to the highest standards of animal welfare, including on farms. The UK’s strong commitment in this area is reflected in World Animal Protection’s recent Animal Protection Index, which judged 50 countries on their policy and legislation for animals and saw the UK ranked joint top alongside New Zealand, Austria and Switzerland. Recent updates to on-farm welfare codes for several animals show this protection in action.
I believe animals should be slaughtered locally wherever possible. I am pleased the Government has announced plans to make CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses. However, under European Union single market rules, it is illegal to ban the export of animals to other EU countries; there are instead EU and UK laws to protect the welfare of live animals during transport. You are right to highlight that as the UK withdraws from the EU, there are great opportunities to re-evaluate existing structures.
Mandatory labelling for method of production has to be weighed against the costs involved for businesses, which could be significant. Legislation already provides scope for producers to label their products voluntarily, and several assurance schemes are also in place. Consumers who have a preference for a particular farming method can therefore readily find meat products labelled with information to inform their choice.
Ministers are fully committed to ensuring that antibiotics are used responsibly. I am pleased to say that as a result of their efforts, sales of antibiotics for use in animals in the UK fell to their lowest level since records began, exceeding a target to tackle the threat of antibiotic resistance two years early.
As you are probably aware there are long-standing provisions in UK law that, subject to specific requirements, permit the slaughter of animals without prior stunning to meet Jewish and Islamic religious requirements.
Although I would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, I recognise the requirements of Jewish and Muslim communities and accept the importance they attach to slaughter in accordance with their beliefs.
Live Export of Animals
All animals deserve to be respected and cared for at every stage of their lives. I welcome the six-week call for evidence launched by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, on improving animal welfare in transport and controlling live animal exports. The Farm Animal Welfare Committee has also launched a review into the existing welfare standards for animals during transport.
The call for evidence lasted six weeks and sought views from across industry, charities and the general public on how the Government might raise standards of animal welfare during transport. I look forward to hearing of the next steps.
Although much of the discussion to has focused on the export of live animals for slaughter, I am assured that all options for future improvements in this area are being considered. I hope those supporting a ban on the export of animals for fattening took the opportunity to respond to the call for evidence and make their views heard.
I understand your concern on this matter but I am afraid I was unable to attend on the 22nd of May due to prior commitments.
You may be interested in the code of recommendations and guidance for laying hens, meat chickens, ducks, turkeys and other birds bred on farms from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/poultry-on-farm-welfare