Badger Culling & Tackling Bovine TB
I understand that the badger cull has been a controversial component of the bovine TB eradication strategy, but the initial areas that have been subject to a cull have seen a significant reduction in incidence of the disease. Of course, no one wants to keep culling badgers for a moment longer than is necessary.
Ministers only ever envisaged that the badger cull would be a phase in the strategy to reduce the weight of the disease in the wildlife population. I am pleased that the consultation you referred to sets out how they intend to phase out culling and accelerate the next phases of the strategy, especially improved diagnostic testing. This consultation also includes proposals to stop issuing intensive cull licences for new areas after 2022 and would enable new licences to be cut short after two or three years based on a review of the latest scientific evidence at that time. Under the new proposals, any new supplementary cull licences, which are granted in regions after intensive culls are complete, would be restricted to two years and would not be reissued afterwards. I understand that some form of culling would continue to be an option in exceptional circumstances to address any local disease flare-ups.
In parallel to the consultation, Ministers are also calling for views on possible future measures to accelerate bovine TB eradication in England, such as further improvements to testing, encouraging increased uptake of farm biosecurity measures, and rewarding low risk cattle purchasing behaviour. It is also encouraging that work on developing a deployable cattle bovine TB vaccine continues at pace and is on track to be completed within the next five years, with field trials scheduled to commence in the coming months.
There is no single answer to tackling bovine TB, which is why it is not currently possible to stop culls immediately. However by deploying a range of policy interventions, we can turn the tide on this terrible disease and achieve the long-term objective of eradicating it by 2038.
I would like to start by assuring you that I care very much about the welfare of all animals. I am pleased to tell you that my Ministerial colleagues are examining the evidence around the use of cages for farm animals and are considering the options. They have also committed to continuing to focus on maintaining world-leading farm animal welfare standards through both regulatory requirements and statutory codes.
Ministers have been clear that it is their ambition for farrowing crates to no longer be used for sows. Indeed, the new pig welfare code clearly states that “the aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary and for any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets.” It is important that we make progress towards a system that both works commercially and safeguards the welfare of the sow and her piglets, and that we do so as quickly as possible. I am pleased to confirm the UK is already ahead of most pig producing countries in terms of non-confinement farrowing, with around 40 per cent of our pigs housed outside and not farrowed with crates. This being said, I will of course listen closely to what my colleague, Sir David Amess MP, has to say on this subject when he brings forward his 10 Minute Rule Bill in March.
I know that this Government has set itself a challenging agenda of animal welfare issues that it will tackle and is taking action on many fronts to improve the health and wellbeing of farm animals. A major example is the commitment to end excessively long journeys for live animals going for slaughter and for fattening.
Of course, if you do have specific concerns about the welfare of an animal, I would recommend reporting it to the police or to the RSPCA who can investigate and take action where necessary.
Protecting Animal Sentience in Law
First and foremost, I believe animals are sentient beings who can feel pain and suffering, and I would like to reassure you that strong action is being taken to reduce their risk of harm. I have always had pets, currently two cats and a dog, and it is manifestly clear to anyone who knows animals that they are sentient. Although just because something is true doesn’t necessarily mean there is a reason to pass legislation that it is the case (we do not need to legislate that grass is green).
I am pleased that the Government is committed to further strengthening our world-leading animal welfare standards and I understand that my Ministerial colleagues are in the process of refining proposals for the manifesto commitment on the introduction of laws on animal sentience. I know that Ministers are still considering the best legislative vehicle to bring forward these reforms when Parliamentary time allows and are engaging with interested organisations and other Government departments as necessary.
In the meantime, the Government’s policies on animal welfare continue to be driven by its recognition that animals are sentient beings. I believe that this commitment to the protection of animal welfare is demonstrated by my Ministerial colleagues continued support for the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill which passed its second reading in the House of Commons recently.
Having left the EU, the UK has the opportunity to do even more. I was pleased to have been elected on a manifesto pledge to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening, and a consultation process is now underway on proposals to deliver this commitment. Ministers will also be consulting on the commitment to implement the Ivory Act and consultations have already been carried out on the commitment to ban primates as pets, as well as on mandatory cat microchipping, which I look forward to seeing the outcomes of. I am also encouraged that this Government has committed to ban imports from trophy hunting of endangered animals.
The Fur Trade
We are a nation of animal lovers, so it is only right that we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world. In addition to fur farming being banned in the UK, I am pleased that the import of fur products is tightly regulated. It is illegal to import furs derived from cats or dogs, or products made from them. In addition, the fur and skin of endangered animals or fish cannot be imported without a valid permit.
As well as this, it is prohibited to import furs or fur products from 13 wild animal species originating in countries where they are caught in the wild by leg-hold traps or trapping methods that do not meet international standards of humane trapping. Strict rules are also in place to ensure that animals kept for fur production are kept, trapped and slaughtered humanely.
I appreciate that there is considerable support for banning all imports of fur products. The UK continues to support higher animal welfare standards worldwide as the best way of phasing out cruel and inhumane fur farming and trapping practices that are banned here. Now we have left the EU, the Government has retained all the current regulations banning imports of cat and dog fur and seal products from commercial hunts, as well as controls on products from endangered species and humane trapping. Now that the UK’s relationship with the EU has been established, there is an opportunity to strengthen UK legislation on animal welfare, and my Ministerial colleagues have told me they will be considering further steps the Government could take on fur sales. I personally would welcome a ban on fur imports, and I have spoken to ministers about it.
The UK will also be able to press for high standards through international forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others. The UK will retake our seat on these bodies and be able more effectively to promote and support improved animal welfare standards internationally.
The Government continues to support the restrictions on neonicotinoids to protect pollinators, and emergency authorisations for pesticides are only granted in exceptional circumstances where diseases or pests cannot be controlled by any other reasonable means. These emergency authorisations can provide short term availability of a product if the applicant can demonstrate that this addresses a danger which cannot be contained by any other reasonable means, that the use will be limited and controlled and that the necessary protection of people and of the environment can be achieved.
Emergency authorisations are also used by countries across Europe. I know that 10 EU countries including Belgium, Denmark and Spain have granted emergency authorisations for neonicotinoid seed treatments since 2018. Under EU legislation, Member States may grant emergency authorisations in exceptional circumstances. I can assure you that the UK’s approach to the use of emergency authorisations has not changed as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU.
The application for the use of Syngenta’s Cruiser SB on the 2021 sugar beet crop is for England only and the duration of authorisation is strictly limited to the period required to allow supply of the product. Furthermore, sugar beet is a non-flowering crop that is only grown in the East of England.
This exceptional use of Syngenta’s Cruiser SB will be strictly controlled and conditions of the authorisation include reduced application rate as well as a prohibition on any flowering crop being planted in the same field where the product has been used within 22 months of sugar beet and a prohibition on oilseed rape being planted within 32 months of sugar beet.
Protecting pollinators remains a priority for the Government. The National Pollinator Strategy, published in 2014, is a ten-year plan which sets out how the Government, conservation groups, farmers, beekeepers and researchers can work together to improve the status of the approximately 1,500 pollinating insect species in England.
I am an animal lover and I am proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. It is right for us to cement our status as a global leader by continuing to raise the bar now we have left the EU. It is welcome that the trade agreement struck with the EU recognises that voluntary cooperation on chemicals regulation can facilitate trade in ways that benefit consumers, businesses and the environment and can contribute to enhancing the protection of human and animal health. I am pleased that the agreement also notes the UK's and the EU's commitment to facilitating the exchange of non-confidential information on the issue of chemicals.
I would like to reassure you that Ministers have stated their determination that there should be no need for any additional animal testing for a chemical that has already been registered to EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). I am pleased to tell you that the Government will recognise the validity of any animal testing that has already been undertaken and so avoid the need for further testing. The grandfathering of all existing UK-held REACH registrations into the UK system will further avoid the need to duplicate animal testing associated with re-registration.
The UK will now be able to establish its own independent chemical regime. Although both the UK and EU will operate REACH frameworks, the two systems will not be linked. This means that companies wishing to retain access to the UK market will be required to notify and submit registration data to the Health and Safety Executive to confirm the registrations and ensure compliance with UK REACH.
I am pleased that the UK has been at the forefront of opposing animal tests where alternative approaches could be used. This is known as the last-resort principle, which will be retained and enshrined in legislation through the Environment Bill.
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