What good are our animal protection laws if we don’t enforce them?

Why are we allowing establishments that handle so many animals to essentially be responsible for their own monitoring, and would we allow this in any other sector?

Amir Khan
Wednesday 22 February 2023 13:16 GMT
Frustrated public confront Animal Rebellion protesters on London Bridge

Like so many others, I place a great deal of trust in the legal system of the United Kingdom.

I trust that after a new law is created, this will be partnered with sufficient enforcement to make sure it is followed in practice. I trust that those breaking the law will be held to account.

After all, this is an integral part of how our legal system functions in the UK. Arguably, enforcement is as important as the laws themselves.

After all, without application, what is a law really worth?

Animal welfare is an issue that is incredibly close to my heart, as it is for many of us.

But lately I have come to question my faith in the system. It strikes me that, in the realm of animal protection, enforcement is often so poor that it could well be argued that it barely even exists.

This seed of doubt began after I came across a unique and extensive report entitled The Enforcement Problem, produced by animal protection organisations Animal Equality UK and The Animal Law Foundation. With this report, for the first time ever in the UK, the stone-cold facts were laid bare.

I came to learn that, although there are currently around 300,000 farms operating in the UK, there is just one inspector in place for every 205 farms in existence. And that, within a four-year period, fewer than 3 per cent of farms were inspected on average. This is startling. How can we know if animal protection laws are being followed if 97 per cent of farms are not even formally inspected?

The Enforcement Problem documents 65 undercover investigations that have been carried out in the last years by Animal Equality and other animal protection organisations. In every single one of them, some form of illegal activity, prolonged suffering and/or substandard practices were discovered.

This information is imperative. Before reading, I was unaware of the extent of this problem and did not consider that oversight of our animal protection laws could be so lacking. How very wrong I was.

The innerworkings of the animal agriculture industry typically take place behind closed doors. Without inspections, we cannot know how animals are being treated, or whether laws are protecting the animals as intended.

The UK is so often regarded as a leader in animal welfare. In May 2022, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill completed its final passage through parliament before receiving Royal Assent, a move celebrated throughout the entire nation. The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 is another critical piece of legislation whose purpose is to improve animal welfare throughout the country.

But even with these laws firmly in place, this latest evidence suggests that animals may be subject to some of the most extreme suffering imaginable.

Animal Equality and The Animal Law Foundation’s report has finally bought this issue, which has been buried for too long, soaring into the light. It is inconceivable to me that over one billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption in the UK every year, yet farms have no formal licensing system in place.

So now, I must ask myself, how have we enabled this lack of oversight for so long? Why are we allowing establishments that handle so many animals to essentially be responsible for their own monitoring, and would we allow this in any other sector?

While this latest revelation is indeed shocking, we must respond by asking ourselves the question which will determine the future of animal protection in the United Kingdom: what will we do about it?

Dr Amir Khan is an NHS Doctor, bestselling author, and GP on ‘Lorraine’ and ‘Good Morning Britain’

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