Britain’s new animal welfare strategy a chance to get it right for horses, says charity

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The British Government's agenda presents a rare opportunity to get welfare settings right for horses, says World Horse Welfare. Photo: World Horse Welfare
The British Government’s agenda presents a rare opportunity to get welfare settings right for horses, says World Horse Welfare. Photo: World Horse Welfare

Britain’s new Action Plan for Animal Welfare is being hailed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring in changes that truly protect horse welfare.

Roly Owers, chief executive of the British charity World Horse Welfare, said the British government had firmly put animal welfare on its agenda for the new parliamentary session.

“Horses often fall through the welfare legislative cracks between the categories of companion animals and livestock,” he said. “But now we have an opportunity to make changes in a number of areas concurrently that can support real improvements to the welfare of all equines.”

The government, in releasing its action plan this week, said it would revolutionise the treatment of animals in Britain and introduce measures to protect the welfare of animals abroad.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government was committing to a range of game-changing welfare measures to protect pets, livestock and wild animals.

Owers, in response to the programme, said World Horse Welfare was delighted that it will now be enshrined in British law that animals are sentient beings, with a new Animal Sentience Bill introduced to Parliament last Thursday.

The charity also welcomes the introduction of new tools allowing fines to be given for animal cruelty, although it stresses that these penalty notices will need to be simple to use to be truly effective.

Several significant parts of the action plan relate to issues World Horse Welfare has long campaigned around, including a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter, improved welfare at slaughter and the licensing of animal welfare establishments.

To be truly effective, many of these laws will require linking a horse to an owner, so a fully digitised, frictionless and enforced equine identification system will be essential, the charity says.

For instance, to prevent horses circumventing the ban on export to slaughter by being moved under the guise of other reasons, each needs to be uniquely and easily identifiable and traceable.

The charity says it also welcomes the new powers for police to respond to cases of animal worrying, but would like to see it extended to all equines and more widely than just on agricultural land, to help tackle the problem of ridden horses and those at grass being attacked by dogs.

Eustice, in announcing the action plan, said Britain was a nation of animal lovers and the first country to pass animal welfare laws.

A horse in Britain is checked for a microchip. Photo: World Horse Welfare
A horse in Britain is checked for a microchip. Photo: World Horse Welfare

It will ban the export of live animal exports for slaughter and fattening, prohibit keeping primates as pets, and bring in new laws to tackle puppy smuggling.

“We will lead on the protection of animals abroad by implementing the world’s toughest ivory ban and banning the import of hunting trophies to protect iconic species.”

The government says it will improve welfare by tackling puppy smuggling through changes to import rules, introducing compulsory microchipping for cats, cracking down on pet theft through a new government taskforce, and banning remote controlled training e-collars.

It will protect animals by making it illegal to keep primates as pets, introducing new laws to crack down on illegal hare coursing, supporting legislation to restrict the use of glue traps, and funding wildlife conservation projects both at home and abroad.

Animals overseas will be aided by a ban on the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals, banning the sale of ivory by implementing the Ivory Act this year, prohibiting the import and export of detached shark fins to protect iconic shark species, exploring a ban on the sale of foie gras, and banning the advertisement of unacceptable low-welfare animal practices abroad, such as elephant rides.

The government will also move to improve welfare for farmed animals by ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, introducing new measures to improve welfare during transport, giving the police more powers to protect farm animals from dangerous or out of control dogs, examining the use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs, improving animal welfare at slaughter, and incentivising farmers to improve animal health and welfare through future farming policy.

The Government will introduce a series of bills to meet its goals. It says there will also be a series of non-legislative changes to promote animal welfare over the coming months, with several regulations due to be brought forward as early as this year.

The Government says it will also ensure that animal welfare is not compromised in future trade negotiations.

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said the proposed changes will make a real and lasting difference to animals’ welfare.

“We’re pleased the Government is committed to improving animals’ lives in the UK and abroad. We can no longer ignore the inextricable link that exists between the way we treat animals, our own health and that of the planet — but to really achieve a step change, it will take courage from right across Government.

“We urge the government to put animal welfare at the heart of policy-making and make these announcements just the beginning of an evolving, holistic animal health and welfare strategy.”

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home chief executive Peter Laurie said his organisation welcomed the action plan.

“Every dog and cat deserves to be safe from harm and this means clamping down on those trading animals illegally and in poor welfare conditions, being proactive to protect owners from the devastation of having their pet lost or stolen, and doing everything we can to reunite them.

“Our pets are not only sentient beings, but much-loved family members and we support any measures that will protect them from unnecessary suffering, and reassure dog and cat owners, both now and in the future.”

The executive director of Humane Society International/UK, Claire Bass, said her group was pleased to see so many commitments to protect animals brought into focus.

“Britain prides itself as a nation of animal lovers and animals suffering both here and overseas for food, fur, entertainment, the pet trade and more deserve this proactive agenda.

“Delivering on the plan will require understanding and real commitment from across Whitehall. Respect for animal welfare is not only the right thing to do for animals, it will also play a critical role in tackling global environmental and public health challenges such as climate change, antibiotic resistance and pandemic prevention.”

Since 2010, the British Government has also brought in mandatory microchipping for dogs to help reunite lost dogs with their owners and has introduced additional protection for service animals. It has also banned the commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens. In 2019, it banned the use of wild animals in circuses.

It is also working with the farming industry to promote healthier animals and better welfare. The strategy also aims to reduce carbon emissions and slow the rise of anti-microbial resistance.

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