A Government decision to revoke farm animal welfare codes risks undermining public confidence in animal welfare standards on English farms, the BVA has said.

Pigs in shed.
BVA says changes in farm welfare codes could undermine public confidence.

The decision, it said, has led the organisation to call on the Government for urgent reassurance.

Defra first consulted on proposals to move away from statutory codes to non-statutory, industry-led guidance in 2013. Here, the BVA “broadly supported” more flexibility to allow for guidance to be updated more regularly, often in light of new welfare science.

Involving all

However, it raised a number of questions regarding enforcement and, critically, around the definition of “industry”, and emphasised vets, farmers, animal welfare scientists with species-specific knowledge, industry bodies and other groups must all be involved and consulted.

It also warned Defra of implications of the message conveyed to stakeholders by such a change and the value attached to the welfare codes by the Government.

BVA president Sean Wensley said: “It is essential any changes to the welfare codes do not undermine public confidence in the high animal welfare standards set for English farms.

“Although the BVA broadly supported the idea of moving to a more flexible system that could take account of new animal welfare science, we maintained a range of expertise must be used to draw up new guidance.”

Next steps

Mr Wensley said the BVA was pleased there would be no changes to the legislation that underpins animal welfare, but said it was unclear where things now lie. It is therefore “vital”, he said, that Defra put measures in place urgently to provide reassurance.

“The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has suggested it would be possible for fundamental principles to be laid down in statutory codes subject to parliamentary scrutiny with operational details being set out in guidance,” he said.

“This idea may be worth further exploration to allow both the flexibility required to reflect new animal welfare science and the public confidence the statutory welfare codes currently provide.”

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