Category Archives: agriculture

so far in the 2021-22 Parliamentary Session…

Our latest Veterinary Policy Research Foundation Newsletter is out! Here we share some updates and highlights from the last few months.

Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

After Scotland passed a similar Bill in July 2020, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act became law in England and Wales on the 29th April 2021. It increases the maximum sentence available for the most serious animal welfare offences from 6 months to five years. Lord Trees spoke at second reading and gave support to the Bill which brings the UK in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland, whilst also stressing that the power of the legislation is only as strong as our ability to enforce it.

Enforcement – Animal Welfare

No one state organisation has a statutory responsibility for animal welfare. Local authorities can appoint Inspectors, but this is a discretionary and not a legal duty. We also know that the costs to local authorities of enforcing The Animal Welfare Act are substantial. VPRF attended a roundtable meeting with RSPCA inspectorate, Local Government Animal Welfare Group, UK Centre for Animal Law (A-LAW) and the Police and identified key themes around penalties and the prosecution process.

Halal Assurance Scheme – Demonstration of Life

Along with others, Lord Trees and the VPRF have been involved in the fruition of a Halal Assurance Scheme – the Demonstration of Life Project. On Thursday 22nd April, the project was launched with attendees including Halal certification bodies, NFU, the FSA, AHDB, the BVA and the Minister of State for Defra, Lord Goldsmith. The Scheme will give assurance to Halal consumers in the UK and worldwide that sheep (and goats) stunned by the defined protocol fulfil the religious requirements of Halal – namely that an animal be alive (albeit in this case unconscious) at the time of killing. The protocol is based on a similar procedure which has been used in New Zealand very successfully for many years. Voluntary adoption of this protocol by abattoirs, will give UK sheep farmers the opportunity to exploit the international Halal sheep market and it will provide associated commercial opportunities for the participating abattoirs and certifying bodies. At a recent House of Commons International Trade Committee meeting, Greg Hands, Minister of State for Trade Policy at the Department for International Trade, noted that some of the UK Halal products were in strong demand for exports and emphasised the opportunities in this area.

The Agriculture Act

The Agriculture Act passed into law last year. We are continuing
to follow up on the commitment made in the Act to improve
animal health and welfare and the professions. We wrote to
George Freeman MP, Convenor of The Reform for Resilience
Commission noting the role of precision technology, including
genetics, in livestock and the role of ruminants in climate
change
. Our comments will inform the Task Force on Innovation,
Growth and Regulatory Reform. Additionally, on the 16th March 2021, Lord Trees wrote to Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Committee on moving animal across borders, particularly drawing attention to the ‘Future of Small Abattoirs’ report, published last year.

Post-Brexit Trade

We are continuing to work on issues affecting animals, animal trade and the veterinary profession, post-Brexit. We are in consultation with veterinary bodies on work-force shortages and keep up to date on the situation. When it came to our attention that the valuable day-old-chicks exports were negatively affected by post-Brexit UK-EU border controls, we wrote the Secretary of State, George Eustice, outlining the UKs crucial role in global poultry trade. We attend meetings including the Trade and Animal Welfare Coalition webinar, providing a response the UK Trade Policy and the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s recommendations. On 26th November 2020, Lord Trees contributed to the debate on UK-

Japan Trade agreement. He outlined the limitations of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act in allowing sufficient parliamentary scrutiny and also urged the Minister to elucidate details of the Government’s often-quoted commitment:

APGAW

Jointly with APGAW, VPRF provides evidence-based briefings on animal welfare topics such as animals in science and sheep scab control policy in the UK. Lord Trees has chaired the first roundtable on reducing, refining and reusing further animals in science and we are taking this work forward this year.

One Health – United Against Rabies

Lord Trees continues to Chair the United Against Rabies Steering Group. The Steering Group is jointly formed from the tripartite, the OIE, the WHO and the FAO. It provides guidance and oversight to the three working groups made up of international scientists and stakeholders, who are tasked with delivering the goal of global rabies eradication by 2030. This work will continue throughout 2021.

One Health – Official Development Assistance

After a reduction in Official Development Assistance from 0.7 to 0.5% GDP, the budgets affected have recently been announced. Lord Trees and five other peers with health and research expertise wrote to the Prime Minister in April 2021, outlining the huge and devastating impact that the cuts are having on health intervention and research capacity in the UK and globally, as well as the reputational damage caused by the severity and speed of the cuts.

Animal Welfare and the Veterinary Profession – 2021

Going forward, the Queen’s Speech on the 11th May 2021 contains much to engage us at Westminster in the next few months. Additionally, we are scrutinising the Bill that aims to put animal sentience into UK law and getting to grips with the Professional Regulations Bill, which has implications for the future of the profession. We will follow the Environment Bill closely as it comes back into parliamentary business, including how it can better tackle the global health threat of Antimicrobial Resistance.

Abattoirs included as eligible for payments in the Agriculture Bill

LORD TREES’ AMENDMENT 87 TO THE AGRICULTURE BILL ELICITS AN IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION FROM THE GOVERNMENT – A WIN FOR BOTH ANIMAL WELFARE AND THE SELF-SUSTAINABILITY OF THE RURAL ECONOMY.

On Thursday 16th July, in response to Lord Trees amendment, Minister’s confirmed that slaughtering would be recognised as one of the key ‘ancillary services’ eligible for public funds. The Amendment was supported by Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. 

This will enable assistance to be given in an appropriate case to a licensed abattoir which, for example, provides a private kill service or enables slaughtering facilities in an area otherwise without adequate provision. 

“I am delighted to say that we have had it confirmed that the definition of ancillary activities in Clause 1(5) covers slaughtering under either “preparing” or “processing” 

Ministers closing remarks to Amendment 87 of the Agriculture Bill, 16th July 2020 

The clarification was all the more welcome as we had reason to suspect that there had been reluctance to enable abattoirs to receive this support.  

In the last few weeks VPRF and others had written a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice and had discussed the issue in detail with Lord Gardiner, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity. 

These conversations and others allowed the government to clarify their position before the committee stage debate. We were very glad that at the last minute the Minister at the Dispatch Box confirmed that “slaughter” would be included in the list of “ancillary activities” eligible for support.   

 The proposed amendment was supported by evidence from a recent All Part Parliamentary Group (APGAW) inquiry; “The Future for Small Abattoirs in the UK”. 

Lord Trees argued that: 

Given the key role that small abattoirs can play in improving animal welfare, enabling local food production and enabling the financial sustainability of livestock  farming, while contributing to the wider rural economy and our national food security, I submit that there is a strong case for their eligibility for support, subject to conditions, under this Bill.” 

He emphasised; 

“The amendment is not about subsidising abattoirs. It would merely allow as eligible for assistance certain abattoirs that recognise the higher regulatory standards rightly required for operations that are relatively low throughput and local.” 

A selection of messages received

“Thank you so much for tabling the amendment…as a small abattoir operator it was good to hear that our place in the local meat supply chain is being recognised at last. I realise this is a first step to securing a future for small abattoirs but it gives them hope and the means for possible support

John Mettrick, Mettricks Butchers, 16th July 2020

“thank you so much for your work in support of abattoirs and for the successful outcome yesterday, we very much appreciate all you have done” 

Megan Perry, Head of Communications, Sustainable Food Trust, 17th July 2020 

Excellent news on the amendment!” 

Tim Morris, Non-executive board member for the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England


“I cannot refrain from saying bravo, hooray and lots of other adulatory adjectives. You spoke brilliantly, have been persistent and utterly persuasive and we finally have some indication from the Government that they are listening.” 

Lady Jane Parker, Sustainable Food Trust 

Above: Farmers Guardian article 24th July 2020 

Read more about the build-up to this Amendment in a Vet Record Article (July 2020) by Intern Catrina Prince: 

also see Lord Tree’s full speech, as recorded in Hansard 

…and further reading and supporting data can be found in the APGAW report “The Future for Small Abattoirs in the UK”  

Non-stun slaughter – Why not a precautionary tale?

The number of sheep and goats slaughtered without stunning has doubled in the last six years, with an estimated 3.3 million (27%) not stunned in 2017. A Food Standards Agency survey for England and Wales estimates that 184 million poultry and 21 thousand cattle were also slaughtered without an effective stun in 2017 (see VPRF Non-stun slaughter Fact File)

EU and UK law require all livestock at abattoirs to be stunned and therefore rendered unconscious and insensible to pain before slaughter. The EU uses a ‘Precautionary Principle’ for policy areas where scientific evidence may be uncertain, but there is reasonable concern for harm to environmental, human or animal health. Despite a body of scientific evidence of harm, the use of non-stun slaughter by some religious groups is allowed in the UK but non-stun slaughter is banned in several countries around the world.

The UK legislation (Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing, WATOK) requires that for non-stun slaughter, each animal has a rapid, uninterrupted cut to the neck by hand-held knife to sever both carotid arteries and jugular veins. The animal must be restrained suitably and be left still during exsanguination for a minimum defined time post-cut. The majority of red meat (63% sheep, 75% cattle) slaughtered for halal is reversibly stunned but the remainder is not. This meat, along with 70% of meat from non-stunned kosher carcasses, enters the market unlabelled.

chicken behind fence NSS slaughter fact file

Several studies have measured time to loss of consciousness (and therefore sensibility to pain and distress) through a variety of methods including loss of posture. Following non-stun slaughter and across several studies, poultry reportedly took 12-15 seconds following throat cut before signs of unconsciousness were apparent. In sheep this was between 2-14 seconds and in cattle between 11seconds in some cases over 4minutes (cattle time to collapse may be longer due to a unique alternative blood supply to the brain).

Recently there has been much public support to recognise that animals are sentient, and therefore able to suffer pain and distress. ‘We are a nation of animal lovers’ the papers declare and Ministers repeatedly emphasise our proud record of high animal welfare. With programmes such as Blue Planet capturing the imagination of the world (apparently the most viewed TV programme of 2017), and conversations around the sustainability and morality of our diets being brought into the mainstream by films such as Cowspiracy, Okja and Carnage; why is the UK struggling to agree when it comes to stunning animals before slaughter?

Lord Trees – the only Veterinarian in parliament – will ask in the House of Lords ‘what is to be done to minimise the number of animals slaughtered without stunning?’ on Wednesday 7th February 15h00