Safeguards for animals face the axe

LEGAL safeguards on the treatment of domestic pets and slaughter of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry are under threat in the Government's drive to remove restrictions on business.

The Deregulation Bill, the flagship of John Major's legislative programme, will transfer supervision of animal slaughter from local councils to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Officials are also canvassing changes in the laws on dogs, cats, horses and circus animals.

The Bill partly repeals the 1974 Slaughterhouses Act and the 1967 Slaughter of Poultry Act, and would transfer supervision of animal slaughter from local councils to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Compassion in World Farming, which seeks better conditions for farm animals, says the legislation is a backward step. Peter Stevenson, the organisation's political and legal director said: 'Just when we need a toughening-up of the law, we get deregulation. This Bill gives the minister a blank cheque.'

Last year 600 million chickens, almost 35 million turkeys, 19 million sheep, more than 14 million pigs and nearly 3.4 million cattle were slaughtered for British dining tables. Even without the Government's deregulation plans, guidelines on electrical stunning of animals before death are often ignored.

Welfare activists are alarmed that the Government has been asking animal organisations if they have any objections to changes in:

The 1963 Animal Boarding Establishments Act, which sets standards of care and safety rules for kennels and catteries.

The 1973 Breeding of Dogs Act, which prevents the over- breeding of bitches on 'puppy farms'.

The 1925 Performing Animals Act, which looks after circus beasts.

The 1983 Pet Animals Act, which regulates pet shops.

The Riding Establishments Act on competence and safety at horse riding schools.

The 1975 Farriers Act, which registers blacksmiths

The British Veterinary Association said:'These acts were brought in to protect the welfare of animals. There is no way they should be deregulated. If anything, they need to be kept under constant review to make sure they are strong enough.'

The DTI's purge of legal safeguards extends far beyond animals. More than 50 pieces of consumer legislation are being investigated with a view to partial or total abolition, including regulations governing push- chair safety, package holidays, childrens' nightwear, furniture safety, the contents of cosmetics and toy safety.

The Shadow Industry Minister, Derek Fatchett, said last night: 'It is now becoming clear just how wide-ranging the Government's plans are.

'If what we hear is true, they are going to rip the heart out of the most fundamental health and safety, consumer, environmental and animal welfare safeguards that we have in this country. No one and nothing will be safe.'