Campaigners pledged to step up the fight for animal welfare yesterday after The Independent highlighted the way in which the Coalition has scrapped or stalled a series of initiatives since taking power.
In an outpouring of public anger, thousands of readers recommended and Tweeted our front-page article, "The great animal rights betrayal". It disclosed how the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has overturned bans on caging game birds and beak-trimming, halted prosecutions of abattoirs, proposed badger-culling to eradicate bovine TB, and made no decision on Labour's proposed ban on wild animals in circuses.
Defra said the story was unfair.
In one of the 400 comments left on Independent.co.uk, Wende Anne Maunder wrote: "I am too upset to comment properly: we knew the Tories would not care about animal welfare but where are the Liberal Democrats? I feel horribly betrayed by this news."
Another wrote: "This is so sickening, I don't know where to begin." Some had specific suggestions, such as labelling eggs with their "beak status", so shoppers could back fully beaked birds. Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, which insists the abattoir prosecutions could have been successful, said he was delighted by the "hard-hitting and deeply relevant article".
He promised: "There will be no let-up. As we observe the dismal trajectory that this Government seems to be headed in, chipping away at measures to protect animals, we remain more determined than ever to carry on revealing the levels of abuse and exploitation animals are subjected to, and to press for positive change."
The RSPCA said: "We're not surprised there was such a massive response to The Independent's article on vital animal welfare issues," adding the public was "increasingly concerned". Its director of communications, David, Bowles, said the organisation feared animals would be a "soft target" as Defra's budget was cut by 29 per cent. Ministers could "easily" ban wild animals in circuses, he added.
However, Jim Paice, Animal Welfare Minister, said: "I was astonished to see Saturday's front-page story. It was not based on knowledge of the facts and what surprised me was the accusation that I am taking away protection for animals. Nothing is further from the truth. It was claimed that my decision on beak-trimming is one of the most disappointing changes. This is just not true. The Farm Animal Welfare Council, an independent group, recommended that an outright ban should not be put in place until there are alternatives to stop pecking and cannibalism... On the gamebirds code, FAWC advised there is insufficient science to justify a ban on cages for breeding birds."