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UK Government Ditches 15 Animal Welfare Pledges

The RSPCA has claimed that since becoming Prime Minister in October last year, Rishi Sunak has backtracked on 15 animal welfare promisesfrom failing to stop live exports to the dismissal of a review into slaughter legislation. Animal rights activists and charities have said that the UK government is failing wildlife.


Since the UK’s official departure from the European Union in 2020, the government vowed to use their new law-making freedoms to improve animal welfare standards and regulations to become the world’s greatest ambassadors for wildlife.


The 2019 Conservatives manifesto that unanimously won the election assured voters that they would swiftly ban trophy hunting imports, as well as live exports, where animals are transported on long and cramped journeys only to be slaughtered when they reach their destination, often in ways considered illegal in the UK.


Former PM Boris Johnson promised on the steps of his Downing Street home that he would highlight the plights of animals as it continues to be an issue “so close to the hearts of the British people.” The outlook appeared optimistic as the former PM signed off the Conservative Party’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare in May 2021, which asserted that the government would crack down on things such as puppy smuggling, importing foie gras and using electric-shock training collars.


Many of the pledges included in the plan were reinforced with the creation of the Kept Animals Bill, which was introduced later that month by the then-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice.


The Kept Animals Bill set out to make a tangible impact onthe lives of animals by exploring and clamping down on five areas with animal welfare concerns: the importing of cats, dogs and ferrets, live exports, purchasing primates as pets, livestock worrying, and zoo conservation standards.


The Bill was warmly welcomed and viewed as a monumental moment in the fight against animal crueltyThe Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation said that with the Bill, the UK ‘will truly set itself apart as a global leader in animal welfare.’


The 15 Broken Promises/ RSPCA


Cycle of delay and drop

These promises were short-lived. In June of this year, Rishi Sunak’s government scrapped the Kept Animals Bill entirelysupposedly to put its contents into single-issue Bills at later dates. As of November 2023, there continues to be no progress with this, and animals are continuing to suffer at the hands of political incompetency.


In the summer, the government also dropped its plans to review legislation regarding cages for farm animalssomething the RSPCA called the final straw following a litany of broken promises. The charity has continued to voice its frustration at the seemingly never-ending amount of governmental U-turns.


Around the UK, more than 10 million chickens are living in cages that grant them less space than an A4 piece of paper,despite 84% of the British public completely opposing cages for laying hens.


Over half of British sows are confined to farrowing crates after giving birth and until their piglets are weaned. Sows spend roughly five weeks in a cage so small that they cannot even turn around. The UK continues to lag behind itsEuropean neighbours, as Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland have all outlawed the use of these crates.


An MP is elected into Parliament to highlight the issues and interests of their constituents on a national stage. With only one in five Brits approving the use of farrowing crates, it is clear MPs are not listening to the public they are there to serveand represent. 


Widespread Criticism

Compassion in World Farming is an animal welfare organisation that has protested against live exports and factory farming for over 55 years. They publically celebrated the introduction of the Kept Animals Bill in 2021 and since its abolishment, penned an open letter to the government to share their anger.


The letter highlighted that New Zealand banned live exports earlier this year while the UK continues to make no progress. It also illustrated Sunak’s hypocrisy; when in need of votes, he promised to “champion” the cause, but his actions since have demonstrated he is not the ally that was expected.


Head of Policy at the Born Free Foundation, Dr Mark Jones,said: ‘This U-turn, [of the Kept Animals Bill] coming as it does months after the Animals Abroad Bill was similarly abandoned, represents yet another failure to fulfil promises that would benefit huge numbers of animals and enjoy overwhelming public support.’


Over the years, Tory peer Lord Zac Goldsmith has been very vocal about his animal welfare and environmental concerns. In 2022, he was appointed Minister for Asia, Energy, Climate and Environment by short-term PM Liz Truss before being re-elected by the current PM. However, in June this year, he resigned in light of Sunak’s total indifference towards wildlifeand the environment.


In a message posted to X (formerly Twitter), Goldsmith said: ‘When he was looking for votes, Rishi Sunak promised to deliver the plan and woolly headed conservative MPs chose to believe him (or pretended to)… almost every single part of that plan has been ditched.’


He continued: ‘Anyone who cares even one jot about animal welfare will need to look elsewhere at the next election. The current PM simply could not care less.’


Photo credit: Imperial College London

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Tags: UK Rishi Sunak British Government Animal Rights Animal Welfare RSPCA Compassion in World Farming Zac Goldsmith Born Free


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