RSPCA hails result of "historic" Commons vote for UK Agriculture Bill

MPs have voted for improvements for animal welfare, but the RSPCA remains concerned that key protections for animal welfare are left out.
calendar icon 14 May 2020
clock icon 3 minute read

Two years after it was first put forward, MPs voted on the Agriculture Bill, securing several important improvements to farm animal welfare in England.

The Agriculture Bill was put before Members of Parliament today for the final time as it reached the Report Stage and Third Reading. The RSPCA has campaigned extensively during the past two years for a number of important animal welfare measures in the Bill, and around 20,000 members of the charity’s supporters lobbied their MPs on the issue.

Tonight saw 605 MPs take the "historical" vote on the amendments, as the first ever law to be voted on by Westminster electronically - due to the current lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of public affairs said: “Since the Brexit referendum result two years ago, the RSPCA has campaigned extensively and lobbied MPs and Defra Ministers about provisions for animal welfare in the Agriculture Bill. Today’s vote was something the RSPCA and its supporters have been tentatively anticipating.

“We’re very encouraged that the Bill includes the development of a scheme to provide financial rewards for farmers in England who improve their animal welfare practices, as well as the official recognition of animal welfare as a ‘public good’. These measures could improve the health and welfare of millions of farm animals and position England as a world leader for farm animal welfare.

“However, we can’t ignore that other key aspects that we hoped would be included have not been voted into law today. We’re disappointed that MPs did not vote to protect farmers in England and the rest of the UK from lower welfare imports despite the UK Government committing to this. At a time when the UK is negotiating new trade deals with the USA, Australia and Japan, all of whom have lower legal requirements for farm animal welfare than the UK, any measures to raise our standards will be undermined if we are allowing in produce from animals reared to lower welfare standards, including in systems that would be illegal here.

“With hundreds of millions of animals farmed for food each year, this Bill has missed an unique opportunity to ensure our higher animal welfare standards are protected.

“We know these issues are incredibly important to the animal-loving public, so we want to reassure them that we will continue to campaign for change, and welcome the support of the public through our website.”

RSPCA polling found that two out of three people (67 percent) are concerned that the possibility of cheap imports of lower welfare products (such as eggs from hens kept in barren battery cages or pork from pigs whose production involves the use of sow stalls) being sold in the UK, could seriously undermine UK standards.

The Agriculture Bill legislation voted on today will now be put to the House of Lords for further discussion, before being enacted into law.

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