Saturday, March 26, 2016

The foxes are in the hen-house

Conservative ministers are planning to repeal an array of official guidance on animal welfare standards, starting with a move to put the code on chicken-farming into the hands of the poultry industry. Liz Truss, the environment secretary, is overseeing moves to scrap the statutory codes on farm animal welfare and move to an “industry-led” guidance as part of her department’s deregulatory agenda. The government has already quietly tabled a draft order to scrap the official code on farming chickens for meat and breeding. It is planning to revoke the code on 27 April – the day that new guidelines will be made public by the British Poultry Council, which will in future be in charge of writing and keeping the new regulatory code. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed it will now begin working with other livestock sectors in a staged timetable of reform. Other sectors that could get control of their own guidance include the cattle, sheep and pig farming industries.

The British Poultry Council has produced new non-statutory guidance on how to comply with the legislation. Charities such as the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming that the move regarding poultry could weaken animal welfare standards in farms and lead to fewer prosecutions for animal cruelty. Legislation that makes it a criminal offence to mistreat animals is not being changed but the statutory codes have until now been used to give magistrates guidance on where those being prosecuted have fallen short compared with good practice.

Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser at Compassion in World Farming, said “I find it very hard to believe when one goes from a government code to an industry code it is going to be as tough. For example, the government code on pigs is quite tough. It says tail docking should only be used as a last resort. Would the pig industry would keep such tough wording? I think inevitably one will see a dilution of the codes.”

The RSPCA said it has been voicing concerns for the past three years about the “downgrading” of the guidelines from statutory codes to industry-led guidance and criticised the lack of transparency around the process. “We are concerned that this change to guidance could impact on the legal weighting these documents have in providing magistrates with legal guidance when considering negligence during animal welfare prosecutions,” a spokeswoman said. “We also have concerns that the new guidance documents may not contain the same level of welfare information as the existing codes and may only serve to help ensure animal keepers are compliant with minimum legal requirements.”

The profit motive is enough to ensure that self-regulation will become a race to the bottom. Profit, profit, profit. The foxes are now in charge of henhouse. "We think foxes know chickens best!" a Government spokesman stated. More profits for business; less welfare for animals. But why should we expect a government that possesses no respect or compassion for disabled human beings to care about chickens?

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