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Statement on the new Animal Welfare Bill
Posted 13 July 2004
The new Animal Welfare Bill, due to be published by DEFRA tomorrow (Wednesday), is likely to play a useful role in consolidating and updating existing laws relating to the protection of animals.
However, there are aspects of the proposed statute that are cause for alarm. DEFRA initially indicated that the new bill could protect animals 'likely to be caused unnecessary suffering' by removing them from their owners before harm can be caused. Latest media reports suggest that this 'duty of care' provision, which is supported by the RSPCA, will appear in the document due to be published. But there is a real worry about whether the RSPCA will have sufficient resources and authority to monitor and enforce the welfare provisions.
Other concerns expressed by Animal Aid:
Reports that RSPCA inspectors will have statutory powers of entry are to be welcomed, but these powers must be backed up by proper support - both legal and financial - from the police and central and local government.
DEFRA has indicated that it will make legal one day fairs, at which exotic animals such as reptiles and birds will be on sale (such fairs may also include dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other animals). At the moment, these events are illegal under the Pet Animals Act 1951/83, which prohibits the sale of pet animals in public places.
Reptiles and birds are particularly unsuited to a life in captivity. On the basis of evidence gathered from bird and reptile markets, there is overwhelming scientific and veterinary opinion relating both to insurmountable animal welfare problems, and also potential public health hazards. Additionally, as the majority of birds and reptiles in the pet trade are wild-caught, the negative impact on wild populations of legalising pet markets would also be significantly increased.
Currently, the rearing of pheasants for sport shooting is governed only by a non-compulsory industry code of conduct. Animal Aid is hopeful that the bill will provide some legal protection for the 20-30 million pheasants bred annually under this intensive regime.
The treatment of horses involved in the commercial racing industry is also cause for concern. The core problem is the industry's ruthless over-breeding and over-working of these animals. Many of those who fall by the wayside - either because they fail to make the grade as racers or when their racing career has come to an end - are discarded or killed.
Animal Aid calls for the introduction of a 'passport', on which is logged key identification details, injuries, veterinary treatments, races run and transfer-of-owner details. Record-keeping should be open to public scrutiny and should continue after the horse leaves racing - or, indeed, be undertaken even if a young animal fails to 'make the grade'. The animal's ultimate fate should also be logged - whether slaughtered for pet or human food, used as a source of meat for the local hunt, or employed in a secondary career in point-to-point racing or at a commercial stables.
The British Horseracing Board and the Jockey Club should have a duty to ensure such records are properly maintained, centrally located and be open to public inspection. DEFRA and/or local authorities should be assigned powers of enforcement with respect to offences of abandonment, neglect, cruelty and the failure to maintain proper records.
Notes to Editors
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