Animal welfare issues
I have been contacted by constituents recently who are concerned about animal welfare issues. I do appreciate these concerns and hope that I can reassure you as follows:
Sentencing for offences of animal cruelty
We have a robust legal framework to tackle this vicious behaviour in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.
The law, and the penalties for breaking it, were reviewed by the Parliamentary Select Committee for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2012. At that time the Committee did not recommend increasing the maximum sentencing available to the courts. However, I am pleased to say that the previous cap in the fine charges that animal abuse cases can attract has been removed. The Ministry of Justice is now looking at whether there is a case for increasing the penalties further.
There has recently been a public consultation into sentencing guidelines for these crimes, which resulted in the Sentencing Council confirming the removal of the cap on the financial element of the penalty, and clarifying a range of relevant factors that would indicate a more serious offence.
I can assure constituents that the Government is committed to maintaining high standards of animal welfare at slaughter, and there are strict legal requirements in place. In slaughterhouses, these requirements are monitored and enforced by Official Veterinarians of the Food Standards Agency to ensure that animals are spared unnecessary suffering, distress or pain during the slaughter process.
The use of CCTV, as with other monitoring methods, does have limitations and relies on businesses to monitor their operations appropriately, but can be beneficial to animal welfare. I am pleased to note that the Food Standards Agency estimates that 94 per cent of slaughtered cattle, 96 per cent of pigs, 90 per cent of sheep and 99 per cent of poultry are now processed on premises with CCTV, and the Government is keen to see the minority of abattoirs still without CCTV move quickly to introduce it.
Although the Government would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, I recognise the requirements of Jewish and Muslim communities and accept the importance they attach to slaughter in accordance with their beliefs. I am, however, determined to ensure that religious slaughter is only carried out by licensed slaughtermen in approved or regulated slaughterhouses.