Thank you for taking the time to write to me on the issue of animal welfare and sentience. As someone who rears a variety of animals at home including three inquisitive alpacas and a brood of happy chickens, I understand how important this issue is to many people.
Unfortunately, I was unable to speak in either debate as during this time I was unwell with flu-like symptoms and remained at home. With that said, I would like to assure you that I join the Government in its commitment to promoting the well-treatment of animals both in the UK and internationally.
I would like to begin by expressing my pride in the fact that UK animal welfare standards are among the highest anywhere in the world. We have made moves to ban many methods of farming that undeniably cause animals suffering and pain long before much of the world, including the EU, did the same.
Our focus is on the balance between protecting and promoting British farmers while making great strides in improving the health of farm animals, especially those named in the petition.
The Government has already banned cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare. The new statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Laying Hens and Pullets came into force in August 2018, providing improved guidance on welfare legislation and reflecting the latest scientific and veterinary advice. I welcome the move by all major supermarkets to agree to stop selling eggs from hens kept in enriched cages by 2025.
I am aware that about 40 per cent of our pigs are living and farrowing outside of cages, putting the UK far ahead of most pig-producing countries on this issue. While good progress has been made, I agree that there is more to be done and I would like to see this figure continue to increase.
The importance of animal welfare will not be forgotten in any future international trade agreements.
Regarding animal sentience, I join the Government in its work so far to promote harsh sentences for animal cruelty and legislating to protect service animals. I assure you that cracking down on the UK trade and breeding of exotic, endangered and unlicensed animals with the help of the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is a renewed priority.
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will enable tougher sentences for those found guilty of animal cruelty offences. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak and the changes to the setup of Parliament, this Bill will now be heard on 11th September. I will be sure to join my colleagues in supporting this Bill.
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