My colleagues and I take the welfare of all animals very seriously and the UK has some of the highest welfare standards in the world. In 2019, I attended the ‘End the Cage Age’ event organised by Compassion in World Farming, making a public statement against caged laying hens.
As outlined in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare, the Government is committed to strengthening welfare standards for all farmed animals and is currently examining the use of cages for laying hens and the use of farrowing crates for pigs.
The Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare sets out the ambition to improve the welfare of farmed animals across the board while working closely with the industry to ensure the sector is able to deal with the significant challenges currently being faced around the world, and still move towards sustainable higher welfare farming practices.
For example, we have committed to regulating pig contracts to support the supply chain which will help to bring stability and security to the industry while the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA’s) Statutory Welfare Code of Practice for pigs provides guidance to pig producers on the legal requirements and how to practise high standards of animal welfare using the latest scientific and veterinary advice.
Currently, 40% of our pigs are kept outdoors and outdoor farrowing systems are used for those sows while around 60% of our hens are now kept in free-range systems with several major supermarkets having pledged to stop selling eggs from the remaining 40% of hens in colony cages by 2025.
The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, which supports farmers to transition to higher welfare practices and systems, will prioritise areas for additional improvement in the health and welfare of pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry, continuing to work with the poultry industry on improving feather cover and keel bone health, as well as reducing the practice of beak trimming.
Poultry producers are encouraged to implement the Better Chicken commitment which would require slower growing breeds and lower stocking densities. On pigs, the Government will continue to improve biosecurity to control endemic diseases.
There is a need to work carefully with the pig and poultry industries, and any decisions made on cage reforms would need to fully consider the implications for both animal welfare and the continued viability of the sectors concerned.
I do share your concerns about the issues raised and support the gradual and continual improvement in farm animal health and welfare that the Pathway provides through partnership between government, farmers, vets, the wider industry and the supply chain. As your local MP, I will follow this closely on your behalf.