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Government plays for time over attacks on its Animal Welfare Bill
Posted 1 April 2005
The long history of the Government's Animal Welfare Bill took another twist when, in March, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published its response to a report by a House of Commons Select Committee that scrutinised the government's proposals.
The Select Committee (known as EFRA) endorsed the call by Animal Aid and other campaign groups for a more open process that could deliver better laws for protecting animals. Defra has responded by paying lip service to open consultation - but seems intent on pushing through its own agenda.
In its December 2004 report, EFRA accused the Government of prejudging several issues. These included the legal status of pet fairs. Currently, there is a ban on selling animals in public places, including markets, but pet fairs have begun to operate in murky legal waters. Animal Aid is confident that such events are illegal, and a number of councils refuse to allow the events to take place. In its Draft Bill published July 2004, Defra jumped to deciding how pet fairs should be legalised, without considering whether they should be made lawful. As a result of sustained criticism, the government have now promised a public consultation.
The EFRA Select Committee also accused Defra of failing to consult properly on the issue of breeding birds for sport shooting. The Government had said that it thought there was 'little concern generally' about the welfare of these animals. The absurdity of this statement is evidenced by the vigorous campaigns of Animal Aid, League Against Cruel Sports and Farm Animal Welfare Network. Defra has now indicated that it will consider conducting 'scientific studies' into the use of beak clips, beak trimming and the kind of battery cages for pheasants first exposed nationally by Animal Aid.
The new Animal Welfare Bill should have been used as an opportunity to update and significantly strengthen the basic law providing protection for animals. Animal Aid will continue to work - alongside other animal advocacy groups and individuals - to ensure that the opportunity is not squandered.