Animal welfare in the General Election manifestos

In what has been dubbed the ‘Brexit Election’, animal welfare appears to be well down the list of issues in the 2017 General Election campaign. Nevertheless, it does make an appearance in the manifestos of the three main political parties in England. Here is a summary of what they say.

The Conservative Party devote an entire paragraph to animal welfare in their 88-page manifesto, so it’s worth quoting it in full:

“We will continue to take action to improve animal welfare. We will implement our proposed reforms on pet sales and licensing and will make CCTV recording in slaughterhouses mandatory. As we leave the European Union, we can take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter.”

Precisely what improvements to animal welfare the Conservatives have made since returning to government in 2010 is hard to tell. Even a proposed ban on the use of wild animals in circuses has yet to be introduced. Making the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses mandatory would be a welcome move, but only if it is independently (and regularly) monitored. The Food Standards Agency estimates that at least 90% of animals are now slaughtered on premises with CCTV, but Animal Aid have had no difficulty in finding evidence of lawbreaking during their undercover investigations at UK slaughterhouses. As for live farm animal exports, noting that the government can legislate to control the export trade when Britain leaves the EU is not the same as saying that they will do so.

Two paragraphs later comes the following commitment that will dismay animal lovers:

“We will grant a free vote, on a government bill in government time, to give parliament the opportunity to decide the future of the Hunting Act.”

If, as expected, the Conservatives are returned to government, this will almost certainly result in the repeal of the Hunting Act and the return of fox hunting.

The Labour Party devote two pages to the environment and animal welfare in their 128-page manifesto. “Labour’s vision is for the UK to lead the world with high animal welfare standards in the wild, in farming and for domestic animals”, a laudable aim that includes proposals to:

– Increase the maximum sentence for those convicted of committing animal cruelty (although they don’t say by how much)
– Promote cruelty-free animal husbandry and consult on ways to ensure better enforcement of agreed standards
– Prohibit the third-party sale of puppies
– Introduce and enforce a total ban on ivory trading in the UK, and
– Stop the badger cull.

They also claim that “only a Labour government will maintain the bans” on fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing.

The Liberal Democrats also promise to introduce stronger penalties for animal cruelty offences in their 100-page manifesto, specifying that they would increase the maximum sentencing from six months to five years. They also pledge to:

– Introduce a ban on caged hens (a welcome move that would prohibit the so-called ‘enhanced’ cages that have largely replaced battery cages for laying hens)
– Clamp down on illegal pet imports through legal identification requirements for online sales
– Minimise the use of animals in scientific experimentation, funding research into alternatives (over the last 10 years, the total number of experiments on animals in the UK has increased by more than one-third to over 4 million in 2015)
– Improve standards of animal health and welfare in agriculture by updating farm animal welfare codes and promoting the responsible stewardship of antibiotic drugs
– Ensure that future trade deals require high animal welfare standards for food imports
– Develop safe, effective, humane and evidence-based ways of controlling bovine TB, including by investing to produce workable vaccines, and
– Provide greater resources for international actions to tackle illegal and unsustainable trade in wildlife, ivory and fish.

Of the smaller parties, the Green Party manifesto promises to introduce “an Environmental Protection Act to safeguard and restore our environment, protect and enhance biodiversity, promote sustainable food and farming, and ensure animal protection” but without providing any details. The UK Independence Party devote two pages of their manifesto to ‘Food Production and Animal Welfare’. Not surprisingly given their opposition to UK membership of the European Union, UKIP pledge to ban the export of animals for fattening and slaughter, pointing out that “should Britain stay in the single market, we would not be able to prevent the export and import of live animals … and end the unnecessary suffering this causes”. UKIP also promise to triple the maximum jail sentences for cruelty to animals and impose lifetime bans on owning animals for those convicted of animal cruelty, install CCTV in every abattoir, and ‘tightly regulate’ animal testing.

Although promises made in manifestos are often quietly ‘put aside’ after an election, they do provide an indication of how seriously the various parties take animal welfare issues. They can also be used to hold the government to account after the election, likewise the opposition parties if they choose to support (or fail to oppose) policies at odds with their stated aims. A guide to the political parties’ positions on key issues, including links to their manifestos, can be found on the BBC website at

Paul Appleby


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