New farm animal welfare plan ‘must not distract from fur and foie gras U-turn’

Payment-by-results scheme will include annual visits by a vet funded by the government

Jane Dalton
Friday 25 February 2022 13:43 GMT
The government has pledged to implement the better chicken commitment, which means slower-growing breeds
The government has pledged to implement the better chicken commitment, which means slower-growing breeds ( )

A new government plan aimed at improving farm animal welfare must not distract from ministers’ backtracking on a ban on fur and foie gras, critics have warned.

Farmers will be encouraged to keep cows, pigs and sheep healthier and in better conditions under the “animal health and welfare pathway” plan from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The payment-by-results scheme will include annual visits by a vet paid for by the government, and grants will be available for equipment and technology or to upgrade housing for cattle to reduce lameness and calf mortality.

Farmers will be encouraged to improve biosecurity to control pig diseases and improve the feather cover of laying hens, the government says.

Laying hens often suffer bald patches where they are repeatedly pecked by others through frustration caused by overcrowding, and pigs have their tails and teeth routinely cut for similar reasons.

The government also pledged for the first time to implement the better chicken commitment (BCC), which requires slower-growing breeds and lower stocking densities.

Hidden cameras inside chicken barns that supply supermarkets have repeatedly shown birds struggling to breathe and collapsing under their own weight because they are bred to grow exceptionally rapidly.

And dying birds are also cannibalised by others or trodden underfoot because of crowded conditions.

The Humane League, which has long lobbied supermarkets, chefs and caterers to adopt the better chicken commitment, welcomed the official policy as “a really significant and welcome milestone”.

But spokeswoman Hannah Yates added: “It should not serve to distract from the concerning backtracking on the fur and foie gras legal ban”.

The government is reportedly set to ditch plans in the Animals Abroad Bill to outlaw fur and foie gras imports after cabinet members Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brandon Lewis and Ben Wallace objected.

It has prompted a furious response across the UK, with animal-welfare organisations uniting to condemn the decision while hoping the ban can be introduced through another bill.

Naturalist Chris Packham has launched a petition against dropping the ban, saying: “In a civilised society, freedom of choice cannot be allowed to trump moral decency.”

A new academic analysis of public attitudes to fur sales has found 83.4 per cent disapproved of imports.

The study, based on nine opinion polls between 1997 and 2021, also found 78.4 per cent backed a total ban on fur imports and sales in the UK.

Footage and testimonies from inside fur farms have shown mink, raccoon dogs and foxes suffering infected, painful wounds and mental torture from being caged.

Ms Yates added: “The fact that the government is willing to help fund the transition towards the BCC begs the question of why supermarkets are still laggards when it comes to improving chicken welfare.

“While leading companies in other sectors such as KFC, Nestlé, Kraft-Heinz, and Sodexo have all committed to the BCC, only Waitrose and M&S have signed up from the retail sector.

“Supermarkets should be investing their profits into raising the baseline standards of animal welfare, especially as taxpayers are going to pay for these improvements.”

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Our members take their responsibilities to animal welfare very seriously and they ensure it is a key part of the production standards for all the meat they sell.

“Retailers already give consumers the choice of how their chicken is reared, including free-range and organic chicken, in addition to the standard range.”

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