Ditching Kept Animals Bill is a major threat to animal welfare

In my capacity as a veterinary surgeon, I am compelled to express my thoughts not as the Liberal Democrat candidate for MP, but as a professional dedicated to animal welfare.

Most people will be aware that I have long championed the need for more vets and scientists to be involved in front-line politics.

The government’s decision to axe the Kept Animals Bill at the 11th hour is hugely disappointing. I share in the dismay expressed by the British Veterinary Association, the Dogs Trust, and several other organisations that have worked so hard for so long to get this bill over the line, and judging by the messages I’ve received from the public and fellow veterinary surgeons, most people share our frustration.

The significance of this bill cannot be understated, as it aimed to address critical issues pertaining to animal health and welfare. The British Veterinary Association President, Malcolm Morley:

News that the Kept Animals Bill will not progress through parliament is extremely disappointing. This crucial legislation, and the package of measures it contained, would have prevented the immeasurable suffering of thousands of animals, by tackling puppy smuggling, the importation of dogs with cropped ears, live animal exports and the keeping of primates as pets.

Consequently, the repercussions on animal welfare of shelving this legislation cannot be overstated.

These concerns are far from hypothetical. As practising vets we know it is not uncommon for dogs with cropped ears, a painful and purposeless mutilation, to be brought into veterinary practices. This cruel procedure is carried out in the UK and abroad by people with no veterinary training merely serves to create an aesthetic image associated with certain breeds.

The bill also included measures to tackle the alarming rise in puppy smuggling, particularly from Eastern Europe. This not only poses a major threat to animal welfare but also carries public health implications, as the imported puppies can introduce diseases that can infect humans such as Brucella canis and rabies. The banning and enforcement of the importation of young puppies and pregnant bitches would have been hugely effective and curtailing this illegal trade.

Dog attacks on livestock cause distress to farmers, anguish to the animals involved, and cost the farming industry over £1.8 million a year – a figure that has been rising year on year.

The pandemic led to a surge in puppy prices, which has also led to a significant increase in the theft of pet dogs. Under current law pets are viewed merely as property with a monetary value. However, this bill aimed to address this issue by advocating for sentences that acknowledge the emotional impact such thefts have on both the animals and their owners, highlighting the unique bond shared between them.

Regrettably, the Conservative government’s track record reveals a pattern of broken promises, including the negotiation of trade deals that undermine our animal welfare and environmental standards. This places our farmers at a competitive disadvantage and directly contravenes the Conservative party manifesto of 2019. Such actions prove detrimental to farming, animal welfare, and the environment.

It is disheartening to witness one of the few potential opportunities presented by Brexit being squandered with respect to tightening our national biosecurity and regulating the import of animals. Instead, we find ourselves in a race to the bottom, with the erosion of our animal welfare and environmental standards. Whether it be permitting the dumping of sewage in rivers with the damage that has on wildlife and ecosystems, or facilitating the illegal importation of puppies and pregnant dogs, this Conservative government has forsaken any semblance of credibility when it comes to animal welfare and environmental concerns.

Even as a veterinarian, I am well aware that there are numerous pressing issues at the forefront of people’s minds, such as the cost of living and local NHS services, that take precedence over concerns regarding animal welfare. However, it is disheartening to witness a government that fails to push through measures that have overwhelming public support and would genuinely enhance the quality of life for pets and livestock throughout the United Kingdom.

I hope that, should I be successful at the next general election,  I can use my professional training and experience to advocate for animal welfare, farming and environmental standards to ensure that legislation going forward is fit for purpose and actually reflect the desires of the overwhelming majority of the public who are feeling so let down by the indifferent attitude of Conservative MPs to animal welfare and environmental issues.

* Danny Chambers is a veterinary surgeon, trustee of a mental health charity, and is the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Winchester.

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5 Comments

  • …trade deals that undermine our animal welfare and environmental standards.

    Non of our new trade deals change our animal welfare, environmental, or food standards. For example, imported Australian beef has to be produced on EUCAS accredited farms – the exact same standard as required by the EU under which we’ve been importing Australian beef for decades.

    ‘The European Union cattle accreditation scheme (EUCAS)’:
    https://www.mla.eu/articles/supply-chain/the-eucas-scheme/

    To make sure that Australian beef supplied to the EU meets this regulatory standard, the Australian beef industry established the European Union Cattle Accreditation Scheme (EUCAS). Under the system, cattle destined for Europe are completely segregated, resulting in a completely separate supply chain for HGP-free cattle.

  • Excellent article. I totally agree with you. What reason did the Government give for dropping this important bill?

  • Jason Connor 2nd Jul '23 - 1:47pm

    I agree the Bill is important but one thing I would add is the cost of vet bills. People get very worried about their pets when they are poorly but visiting a vet is prohibitive for many people particularly on lower incomes. Can anything be done on this? How about a sort of NHS for pets like the PDSA but an expansion of them. There are too few of them at the moment and then you have to claim certain benefits to be eligible for treatment. Increasingly people who were able to afford vet fees before are now finding it more difficult with the cost of food, energy prices and high inflation. I for one would welcome moves towards a system which enables people with pets and animals to get treatment for them which is more affordable.

  • This places our farmers at a competitive disadvantage…

    Much the most competition for UK farmers comes from the EU whose farmers are heavily subsidised, closer, operate with the same seasonality, and have full tariff and quota free access to the UK market.

    ‘Rishi Sunak is dead wrong about UK farming and the Australian trade deal’ [August 2022]:
    https://www.briefingsforbritain.co.uk/rishi-sunak-is-dead-wrong-about-uk-farming-and-the-australian-trade-deal/

    The UK’s new Australian and New Zealand trade deals are, if anything, overly protective of UK farmers to the detriment of UK consumers. […]

    Annex 2A contains Australian retained protections. It is very short, only one and a half pages. […]

    The UK version however, Annex 2B, runs to 14 pages and retains protections on agricultural products as follows:

    ‘Hancock and Kidman stake a claim for a piece of the new tariff-free UK beef market’ [June 2023]:
    https://www.kidman.com.au/hancock-and-kidman-stake-a-claim-for-a-piece-of-the-new-tariff-free-uk-beef-market/

    Slow start to tariff-free trade
    As of 23 June, the UK had taken only 173 tonnes of chilled Australian beef for the month of June, clearly indicating that there has been no ‘mad rush’ to push more Australian product into the market since the FTA was activated on June 1. […]

    The previous month of May – still under tariff burden – Australia exported 140t of beef to the UK, suggesting there has been little material effect on tonnages to this point.

  • Peter Hirst 10th Jul '23 - 1:16pm

    Animal rights is an issue that could distinguish us from the other Parties. Animals suffer and it is a fairly cheap and effective policy to outlaw unnecessary animal suffering. It resonates with the electorate and is a sure vote winner. It should be a key manifesto commitment, even a red line in any negotiations with Labour.

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