INVESTIGATION: Farms and slaughterhouses should be licensed to prevent cruelty to animals

Farms and slaughterhouses should be licensed to prevent cruelty to animals, says report

INVESTIGATION by Billy Briggs in The Ferret

Scottish farms and slaughterhouses should be licensed to prevent cruelty to animals because there is “widespread non-compliance” with animal protection laws, according to a new report.

Animal Equality, a group campaigning to end the abuse of farmed animals, argues that a licensing system and unannounced inspections are potential solutions to tackle abusive practices, which have seen pigs having tails cut off and cows left unable to stand after maltreatment.

According to the study, fewer than three per cent of the UK’s 300,000 farms were inspected during a four year period from 2016 to 2021, leading to “widespread non-compliance” with animal protection laws.

The report chimes with The Ferret’s findings five years ago when we revealed there had been 700 serious welfare breaches in Scotland.

Animal Equality’s study — Law and Disorder: The Enforcement Solution — has been backed by Compassion In World Farming, which said the licensing of farms could lead to “improved respect” for welfare laws.

In reply, the Scottish Government said it was committed to ensuring the welfare of animals but without specifying if ministers backed a licensing system. The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it will consider the report’s findings.

An analysis by Animal Equality of 65 covert exposés inside UK farms and slaughterhouses released between 2016 to 2021, “demonstrated illegality or substandard practices taking place on every facility”.

This included evidence of pigs having their tails cut off, cows unable to walk or stand, and hens crammed into overcrowded cages.

Over 69 per cent of cases resulted in no subsequent formal enforcement action, the report says. By introducing a licensing system, all farms would receive an official government inspection at least every one to three years, depending on the farm’s size and the number of animals held.

“Inspections would be more robust, conducted against a clear set of species-specific welfare criteria, and where possible unannounced,” wrote the authors. “Appropriate penalties for all farms found not complying with their licences and the law would be strictly enforced in all cases, such as fines, suspension, non-renewal of a license to operate, or prosecution.”

Farms are one of the few animal industries that do not require any form of registration or licensing for welfare purposes. Licensing and approval systems are required for other animal industries such as pet shops, zoos and animal research, as well as other professions such as dentists, doctors and lawyers.

Animal Equality claims this inconsistency “makes no sense”.

In Scotland, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, local authorities and Scottish SPCA inspectors, have powers under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 to investigate potential animal welfare offences on farms or during transport.

Food Standards Scotland inspectors are responsible for enforcement of animal welfare legislation at abattoirs.

In the most serious cases, evidence is presented to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service who decide whether a prosecution should be taken.

Most farmed livestock production in Scotland is covered by industry assurance schemes such as Quality Meat Scotland, or RSPCA Assured for farmed salmon.

A salmon farm off the West Coast of Scotland.

The Ferret revealed in 2017 that many thousands of farm animals suffered in more than 700 serious breaches of welfare rules.

Cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens were found injured, emaciated, diseased or dead on arrival at abattoirs. Numerous animals were slaughtered while heavily pregnant, or had to be repeatedly stunned before they were killed.

There was “cannibalism” amongst chickens, “unnecessary pain” endured by cattle and “massive bruising” on sheep. In other cases there were “clear signs of suffering”, “evident stress” and “extensive maggot infestation”.

Abigail Penny, executive director of Animal Equality UK, claimed farms have been “knowingly flouting the law” for too long, and face “few consequences for the illegal abuse inflicted” on animals under their watch. “Without more robust rules in place, animal abusers are not being held accountable, millions of animals are being further failed by the system, and Britain risks moving backwards,” Penny added.

“Farmed animals already suffer greatly during their lives, the very least they deserve is to be properly protected from illegal abuse and neglect.”

Peter Stevenson OBE, chief policy officer at Compassion in World Farming, said many investigations have revealed illegal practices and welfare abuses on British farms and “this needs to end”.

He added: “Breaches of the law are common in the pig sector. For almost 30 years, routine tail docking has been illegal and yet 72 per cent of UK pigs are still tail docked.”

Barrister Ayesha Smart,who prosecutes for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, contributed to the report. They argued that bringing farming regulation in line with other professions would ensure that those circumventing the law are prevented from continuing to operate.

Smart said: “Penalty notices can be used as a secondary tool to capture the more ‘minor’ breaches in law and/or first instance offences where ordinarily no further action would often be taken. One can simply look to the current regimes for road traffic offences, environmental offences and the Covid-19 fixed penalties to see how this satisfactorily operates in practice.”

The Scottish Government told The Ferret it takes animal welfare “very seriously” and is committed to “maintaining the highest welfare standards” for livestock.

The National Farmers Union Scotland pointed out that membership of Quality Meat Scotland assurance schemes for beef lamb and pork involves annual independent farm inspections for all members.

Quality Meat Scotland declined to comment.

  • Dumbarton used to have a slaughterhouse in Bankend Road, near The Common, but it is long-sinced closed.

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