General election 2019 and animal rights: What are the parties' policies on animal welfare?

Jane Dalton
Both Conservatives and Labour would expand mandatory microchipping to cats, including Larry of Downing Street: Getty

This general election is the first at which all political parties have actively courted the animal-welfare vote, in an era when social media has allowed them to see the breadth of support for such issues.

The Conservatives’ manifesto is the first since hunting with dogs was banned in 2005 that has not held out the prospect of reviving fox-hunting.

In the 2017 election, Theresa May’s support for hunting was blamed for her losing much support.

Since then, rising tensions over the badger cull and the ecological effects of farming have increased pressure on politicians, while growing awareness of discarded plastic has fuelled concern for wildlife and marine life.

Labour has even drawn up a separate 50-point animal welfare manifesto separate from its main policy one.

The key party policies on animal welfare outlined in their manifestos include:

Badger cull: Described by the Badger Trust as the “largest destruction of a protected species in living memory”, the cull is an attempt to eradicate tuberculosis in cattle. The Conservatives’ manifesto does not mention the cull, but the government has given the go-ahead for culling to be continued and widened.

Labour pledges in its manifesto to end the badger cull, saying: “We would work instead on non-lethal interventions to reduce the incidence of disease in cattle.”

The Lib Dems say they want to “develop safe, effective, humane, and evidence-based ways of controlling bovine TB, including by investing to produce workable vaccines” but do not go as far as ending the cull.

The Green Party also says it will end the cull, with a pledge to fund research into a test to enable cattle vaccination. “We will also invest in better farm bio-security and badger vaccination,” its manifesto says. Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, has joined calls for a public inquiry into the cull.

The Animal Welfare Party (AWP), which has just six candidates in the election, also pledges to end the cull.

The Brexit Party manifesto contains no reference to animal welfare.

Live exports: The Tory manifesto promises to end “excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening”, suggesting a ban on live exports implicitly but not explicitly.

Labour is promising to ban live exports for slaughter and fattening.

The Green Party says it will enforce tougher regulations on animal transportation, including a maximum limit of eight hours’ travel for animals in transit and an end to all live exports “from our shores”.

The Lib Dem manifesto does not mention live exports.

The Animal Welfare Party also pledges to end live exports and reduce journey times for animals travelling to slaughter in the UK.

Trophy-hunting imports: The UK’s ivory ban is due to take effect within weeks, although antique dealers are challenging it in court. The Conservatives say they will bring it into force and extend it to other ivory-bearing species, and will ban imports from trophy-hunting of endangered animals.

Labour is also pledging to ban the importation of hunting trophies of threatened species,

The Lib Dems have the same pledge with the condition “where the hunting does not contribute to environmental protection”.

Hunting: The Conservatives have abandoned hopes of repealing the hunting ban, by not including a free vote in their manifesto.

Labour want to develop a national wildlife crime strategy and make illegal hunting and all wildlife crime an offence. The manifesto promises to “enhance and strengthen the Hunting Act, closing loopholes that allow for illegal hunting of foxes, deer and hares”. This would include a review of penalties under the Hunting Act, including consulting on custodial sentences, and a possible new “recklessness” clause to prevent trail hunts being used as cover for illegal hunting.

The party says it will boost police resources to tackle rural and wildlife crime.

Lib Dems do not mention hunting but say they will “ensure that the National Wildlife Crime Unit is properly funded”.

The Green Party says it would ban all hunting, adding: “This includes trail hunting, where dogs are used to track foxes who are then shot, and the commercial shooting of deer and game birds. Government subsidies, used to maintain artificial landscapes designed only for hunting (such as grouse moors) will be ended and the land rewilded where possible. Where necessary for ecological reasons, humane culling will be licensed by Natural England and carried out by trained professionals.

“We will also ban the use of lead ammunition and outlaw all forms of snaring.”

The AWP opposes any repeal of the fox-hunting ban.

Farming: The Tory document gives a vague promise of “safeguarding high standards of animal welfare” under a section on a post-Brexit deal for farming.

“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards,” it says.

Labour offers to introduce a formal whistle-blowing procedure through the Food Standards Agency to enable employees to report bad behaviour and practice in abattoirs. It would also review training and standards in slaughterhouses.

The party wants to introduce a phased ban on sow farrowing crates, and end cages on farms by 2025. It will take action to tackle livestock worrying, it says.

The Lib Dems would “improve standards of animal health and welfare in agriculture, including a ban on caged hens, and promote the responsible use of antimicrobials”. The party wants a Nature Act to restore the natural environment and improve biodiversity.

The Greens would advocate for European legalisation to end factory farming, ban routine use of antibiotics for farm animals; implement a complete ban on cages and close confinement and deliberate mutilation of farm animals and help shoppers choose cruelty-free food, with mandatory method of production labelling for meat, milk and dairy products; phasing in a tax on meat and dairy products to reduce carbon emissions from livestock methane.

The AWP would redirect farming subsidies away from livestock and fisheries farming and into plant-based agriculture; phase out farming practices and systems with poor welfare consequences for animals and end all slaughter without stunning.

Primates as pets: The three main parties are pledging a ban.

Sentencing for cruelty: The Tories promise tougher sentences for animal cruelty. A bill raising maximum sentences from six months to five years has started its way through Parliament but has been stuck without progress for several months.

Labour says it would remove two-tier sentencing for animal cruelty so that all animals – domestic, under human control and wild – are protected by the five-year jail term.

The Lib Dems support the five-year maximum.

Microchipping: Both Conservatives and Labour would expand mandatory microchipping to cats. Labour would expand the reporting of car accidents to include cats.

Dogs and puppies: Both Conservatives and Labour pledge a crackdown on illegal smuggling.

Animal protection: All the main parties promise to enshrine animal sentience in law.

In addition, the Labour manifesto promises:

  • an animal welfare commissioner
  • a ban on the sale of snares and glue traps
  • protection for crustaceans to end the practice of lobsters being boiled alive
  • better accessibility to vets for those on low incomes
  • laws to tackle horse abandonment
  • better prosecution rates for the illegal persecution of birds of prey
  • a ban on all imports of fur and foie gras
  • and an independent review of the use of the whip in horse-racing

The Lib Dems also pledge:

  • a ban on the sale of real fur
  • a clampdown on illegal pet imports
  • an independent regulatory body for racehorse welfare

The Green Party says it will:

  • stop the use of primates, cats and dogs in research and the importation of monkeys for use in labs, and end the use of live animals in military training
  • work to minimise all stress-causing practices during production of animal-based food products
  • call on all nations to declare the waters under their control as havens from whaling
  • create a new Commission on Animal Protection
  • incentivise changes in food consumption, with “less but better” meat and dairy consumption, including clear labelling to indicate carbon emissions, high animal welfare and intensive production methods

Examples of AWP policies also include:

  • promoting plant-based diets
  • acting on the known link between animal abuse and domestic violence with increased penalties for those convicted of animal abuse
  • banning all slaughter without prior stunning, and banning the importation and trade of products produced without stunning

Some of the policies of other small parties have been summarised by Animal Aid here.

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