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For over 50 years the UK has shown leadership in public-driven animal welfare policy and, more recently, consumer-focused initiatives. Now that we are leaving the European Union, what should be the focus of future UK government and industry policy? In this article, David Main and Siobhan Mullan argue that we are entering an exciting new era of animal welfare policy, driven by both public and consumer interest.
Animal welfare driven by public concern
Historically, the UK has been at the vanguard of animal welfare policy. Public interest in animal welfare and political pressure have given us world-leading legislation in 1822, 1911 and 2006.
From 1968 onwards, farm animals have received additional protection, reflecting specific concerns from the British public. This has included regulating procedures considered mutilations, such as castration, and prohibiting husbandry systems, such as veal crates.
However, some change introduced as a result of trying to better animal welfare has led to economic conflict. For example, the industry argued that prohibition of pig stall and tether systems contributed to a decline in UK pig production, as producers struggled to compete with cheaper imported products. This led to a significant shift in government policy away from ‘gold plating’ and towards EU-led legislation. Hence, the prohibition of the standard battery cage for hens in 2012 was agreed and implemented across all EU member states.
Furthermore, the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy for Great Britain (2004) legislation, which followed the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001, signalled a shift in policy to only intervene in animal welfare regulation ‘where the market on its …