animal welfare

Once and for all the Conservatives prove they are not the party for animal lovers

If you’re anything like me then you would have been shocked to learn that a motion to recognise animals as sentient beings – capable of feeling pain and emotion – was rejected from the EU Withdrawal Bill during a commons vote last week. The amendment, submitted by Green Party leader Caroline Lucas was narrowly defeated in parliament by just 18 votes, after every single member of the Conservative Party and their bedfellows the DUP voted against it. Despite every remaining member of parliament voting to transfer the animal sentience clause into UK law post-Brexit, the government was able to use its fragile majority to defeat them.

What is perhaps most disheartening, yet somehow unsurprising, is the complete and blatant u-turn by Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove. Earlier this year Michael Gove was questioned in the House of Commons about his intentions regarding the environmental implications and animal welfare standards of Brexit. During this debate Gove was asked by Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley: “Can my right hon. Friend confirm that article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which categorises animals as sentient beings, will be part of the repeal Bill?” to which Gove confidently responded: “Absolutely. Before we entered the European Union, we recognised in our own legislation that animals were sentient beings. I am an animal; we are all animals, and therefore I care—[Interruption.] I am predominantly herbivorous, I should add. It is an absolutely vital commitment that we have to ensure that all creation is maintained, enhanced and protected.” However, it seems that this promise – supposedly based upon beliefs close to Gove’s heart – was conveniently forgotten about when the time came for him to cast his shameful vote (along with the rest of his party – even Henry Smith himself).

The question we all have to ask – and definitely should be asking – is why the entire Conservative party voted the way they did, and what sinister policy is lurking around the corner? This is not only a party that seems to have nothing more than a superficial grasp of animal welfare issues, but also a party with the responsibility of navigating the turbulent waters of Brexit. There have already been fear-laden reports that Brexit might spell bad news for animals, but never has this been more plausible a concern than following this vote. With the legal standing and even the very basic nature of animals being re-written in law during our withdrawal from the EU, we are now on the edge of a very dangerous precipice. What will this mean for farm animals in a post-Brexit Britain?

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 currently protects companion animals such as cats and dogs, but makes no mention of sentience and does nothing to protect the animals most often subjected to abuse such as farm animals, wildlife and laboratory animals. It seems we could be about to take several steps backwards and see the most vulnerable animals in this country stripped of what few rights they did have, and subjected to much lower standards of welfare. Perhaps farm animals – no longer considered sentient beings – will be able to be reared, housed and slaughtered with even less regard for welfare than they are now; or perhaps we will even see the end of historically crucial wildlife protections as we watch our remaining areas of green-belt land swallowed up in a sea of concrete.

Of course, this is not the first time the Conservatives have demonstrated a complete lack of compassion and understanding when it comes to animal welfare issues. The reason the parliamentary vote on fox hunting was scrapped from the final Tory manifesto was not because Theresa and her chums had a change of heart, but simply because of their humiliating performance in this year’s election. Had Mrs May got the majority she so confidently predicted, the countryside would no doubt have already reverted back to being a playground for the bloodthirsty.

Then of course there’s the badger culling, a scientifically flawed and economically disastrous time-wasting exercise that has done nothing but prove that badgers don’t spread bovine TB and that this government has an irrational hatred of badgers. In fact, it seems that every time there is a discussion on animal welfare issues, the Conservative party show a complete lack of connection with the wider public and push ahead with policies that the majority of the country find abhorrent. Surely this in itself demonstrates that not only are the Tories not the party for animal lovers, they’re not the party of the people at all.

In a world that is now spiralling towards the increasingly uncertain future created by global warming, deforestation, mass-farming and other devastating symptoms of an over-consumptive society, the time is now upon us to start choosing our leaders more wisely. Protecting our environment and the animals (human or otherwise) that inhabit it should be at the top of the agenda for any government. Recognising our fellow non-human Earthlings as sentient beings is an important part of any society that wishes to strive for a more ethical and environmentally secure future. The Conservative party have shown us before that they do not care about animals, but now we have it in writing. It’s time for us to take action.

What Can I Do?

If you live in a constituency with a Conservative MP then please contact them to let them know you do not agree with their vote. You can find out the name and party of your MP, as well as how to contact them by clicking here.

Alternatively you can ask your MP to tell Michael Gove: “Animals are sentient beings” by clicking here.

You can also sign this petition which will be delivered to Michael Gove.

Finally, please keep the pressure upon the government to reverse this decision. Please share this article, and others like it, and remember this decision next time you are asked to vote for a new government.

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How ethical are your free range eggs?

It seems free range eggs are more popular than ever. The amount sold in the UK last year accounted for just over 50% of total egg sales, making them officially the most popular eggs available. So what does this tell us? Well, perhaps it would suggest that as consumers we are really starting to pay attention to where our food is coming from, and also taking an interest in the welfare of the animals producing it.

Compared to the second most popular egg, the “enriched cage” egg, free range eggs are only marginally more expensive, and come with the great feeling of knowing that no cruelty was involved in their production. Or so you would think. It may come as an unwelcome shock to learn that the rosy picture presented to us on our free range egg boxes is often far from the truth. Despite the clever marketing suggesting that free range laying hens spend their days clucking around areas of open British countryside, the truth is often far more sinister.

In order to qualify as free range, laying hens must have constant daytime access to the outside world, with available outdoor space of 4 square metres per bird. However, with nothing to stipulate how many exits from the barn must be made available, many “free range” facilities end up being nothing more than crowded barns with one or two small flaps available for outside access. With current EU regulations stating that the indoor housing for free range birds need only provide a square metre of space for every 9 hens, many modern barns can house well over ten thousand hens in cramped, multi-tiered facilities that are a world away from the happy free range chickens advertised on egg boxes and in television commercials. In fact, due to the sheer volume of birds living in these cramped conditions with such limited access to practical exits, many of Britain’s apparently free range hens will never spend any time outdoors at all.

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This new take on free range egg production may come as a shock, but disturbingly it is now an industry-wide common practice to house free range birds in such a manner. The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) actually promote both flat-deck and multi-tier methods as a humane way to keep “free range” birds in numbers of up to 16,000 per individual barn, according to the 9 birds per metre EU rule. In fact, Myles Thomas – BFREPA chairman – believes the multi-tier system to be so efficient that he keeps a total of 48,000 “free range” hens in his three multi-tier barns in order to supply eggs to Sainsbury’s, ASDA and Aldi.

Investigations into so-called free range farms by groups such as Viva! have regularly shown just how cramped some of the barns really are, but also the shocking conditions that result from the birds living in such environments. Dead birds left to rot with their eyes pecked out, diseased and injured birds unable to walk, and birds showing signs of severe behavioural problems are just some of the discoveries made on free range farms in the UK. And despite public outcry when these reports are released, more often than not the producers are found to be breaking no official welfare laws when investigated by authorities.

And what of the male birds? It goes without saying that male chicks born into the egg industry have no practical use due to their obvious inability to produce eggs. The sad result of their economic uselessness is that male chicks are killed on the day that they’re born. This is usually carried out by gassing or mechanical maceration – essentially being dropped into a shredder, fully conscious. To find out that this is the case in caged or barn egg production probably wouldn’t come as a huge shock to most, but unfortunately this is the reality across the board – free range and organic eggs included. The same is true of beak trimming, a painful procedure carried out without anaesthetic which, although prohibited in organic egg production, is a common procedure on modern free range farms. And what happens to egg laying hens when they are no longer hitting their laying quotas? They’re slaughtered, of course.

The reality of modern free range egg production is that profit still takes precedence over animal welfare. With farmers being put under continuing pressure to produce animal products at cheaper prices, and regulations allowing producers to slap free range labels on produce that is anything but, it’s becoming harder and harder for consumers to make ethical choices. And what about the producers who do put animal welfare before profit? Even if you can look past the cruelty of killing day-old male chicks, these more humane producers are practically indistinguishable from their more intensive and unethical rivals on the supermarket shelves.

If the growth in the free range egg market tells us only one thing, it’s that people do care about where their food comes from, and how the animals that produce it are treated. The question we should really ask ourselves therefore is this: if we care about chickens enough to buy free range eggs, shouldn’t we care about them enough to ditch eggs altogether?

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Meet the cat rescue charity with big plans in Surrey

Founded in 2014 by a small number of devoted cat lovers, Here For Cats is a Surrey-based cat rescue and re-homing initiative. Earlier this year the group of volunteers achieved the landmark goal of becoming a registered charity, and are now setting their sights on bigger things.

The charity seeks to help cats in need in the Surrey area by providing shelter, warmth, food, veterinary care and love, and then finding suitable new homes. This is currently achieved using custom-built pens in volunteer back gardens, as well as relying upon foster-homes to help care for the cats. The big plan, however, is to open a purpose-built cat rescue centre in the near future.

Naturally the main focus of the new centre will be the rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of cats; but it will also act as an educational hub from which the charity can promote responsible pet ownership. Building on this premise, the charity also intend for the facility to provide a resource to be used by, and to benefit, the entire community; with educational facilities and space for a range of activities. In a bid to promote mutual well-being, understanding and respect between people and animals, Here For Cats plan to run activities with guests to the centre including a Book Buddies scheme, courses in animal first aid and communication, as well as talks and clinics by animal behaviourists.

As far as the rescue-centre itself goes, Here For Cats plan to create a space that meets the needs of every animal they take in. This will include rescue pens, feral chalets and safe havens, a nursery for mums and kittens, a hospital and isolation facility, a retirement village, enclosures, boarding facilities and much more. In addition, there are plans to include public facilities such as a charity shop, cafe and gardens.

These are certainly ambitious plans, and the team at Here For Cats know this only too well. However, these are plans that the people of Surrey are bound to get behind. The charity is run entirely by volunteers who self-fund much of what they do. With no support from government or council funding, the charity does rely upon the kindness and generosity of the public. Every penny currently donated goes directly to the animals but more help is needed if the Here For Cats big plan is to go ahead.

Here For Cats are now actively fundraising to secure an area of land on which to build their rescue centre. All donations are welcome, whether big or small. If you want to help Here For Cats realise this goal then please click here to donate. Alternatively you may wish to become a sponsor.

If you are unable to donate, then there are still a number of other ways you can help, whether it’s volunteering your time to help with fundraising, transporting cats or even providing a foster home. For more details, please click here to visit the Here For Cats website.


Here For Cats Surrey cat rescue charity


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Land of hope and glory: the truth behind British farming

In the last ten years the number of vegans in the UK has grown by 360%. Ask the average vegan their reason for adopting the lifestyle, and the majority of the time the answer will be “for the animals”. This comes despite the evidence that going vegan is great for our health and is hugely beneficial for the environment. It seems compassion for animals is still the number one driving factor for the huge surge in veganism in recent years.

Nowadays there is a wealth of information available online, and thousands of videos on YouTube showing the cruel nature of modern animal agriculture. However, so much of the available footage and statistics are from other countries, mainly the USA, that critics of veganism in the UK are quick to dismiss them. A common argument used against animal activists in the UK is that we treat animals so much better here than in other parts of the world. Many people refuse to believe that farmers in the UK would allow such obscene and cruel practices to take place on their farms, and are able to justify their continued support of the industry by adhering to this narrative.

This is what the makers of new documentary film “Land of Hope and Glory” have set out to change. Spurred on by the line “that doesn’t happen in our country“, the team behind the film travelled up and down the UK, working with a number of different groups to bring the reality of British animal agriculture into the limelight. According to the makers of the film: “through Land of Hope and Glory we aim to show the truth behind UK land animal farming by featuring the most up to date investigations as well as never before seen undercover footage, with a total of approximately 100 UK facilities featured throughout the film“.

Land of Hope and Glory tells the story of the 1 billion land animals slaughtered in the UK each year. Following the process involved in rearing, transporting and slaughtering pigs, cows, sheep and poultry, the film paints a bleak picture that conflicts heavily with the rosy image of British farming we are so often offered by the industry itself. What filmmakers Ed Winters and Luna Woods, of Surge Activism, have delivered through this film is a look at the inhumane methods that most people in the UK don’t realise are standard practices in British farming.

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Presented in four parts each focused on a different group of animals, the film guides us first through the world of pig farming where we learn about the bodily mutilations carried out on piglets without anaesthetic including teeth clipping and tail docking. The cramped conditions that the vast majority of pigs are kept in in the UK makes for difficult viewing, and the treatment of unwanted or unhealthy piglets and sows shown in the film is deeply distressing.

As the film moves on to cows, we learn of the heartbreaking fact that dairy cows have their calves removed from them just 24-48 hours after birth. This is not something that can be attributed to rare or isolated cases, as this is the case on the majority of dairy farms in the UK and is actually recommended by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This is sadly not the worst thing that will happen to the animals during their lives – as the film shows – and for the calves is just the beginning of a short lifetime of misery and abuse.

The awful living conditions and brutal practices shown in this film will no doubt come as a shock to many, especially those who attempt to make more ethical choices by purchasing “humane” animal products. Sadly much of the footage shown throughout this film is taken from farms classed as free-range, organic, high-welfare, red-tractor approved and RSPCA-approved producers. What is most prominently highlighted in the film is the sad truth deliberately hidden from consumers which is that labels such as “free-range” are mostly arbitrary and actually misleading due to the rules applied to them. Most consumers who purchase free range eggs would be horrified to learn that the hens producing them were housed in dark, cramped barns, with virtually no access to the outside world, yet this is so often the case. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that there is no legal definition of “free range pork”, meaning farmers can keep pigs in any of the awful conditions depicted in the film, and still label their product as “free range”.

The film also dispels any myths about sheep and goats being the more fortunate of farm animals due to their generally being free roaming. Just like pigs, cows and chickens, sheep and goats are forced to endure a series of brutal procedures without anaesthetic, and are also subject to a number of terrible and widespread diseases. It is stated in the film, for example, that foot rot is present in 97% of British flocks.

Much of the film focuses on the hugely traumatic experience the animals all must go through on their way to the slaughterhouse. The animals, as young as 4-6 months old in the case of lambs, are transported for huge distances in cramped and overcrowded trucks, with no food or water and often in sweltering heat. Many animals do not even survive the journey to the slaughterhouse. Those that do are subjected to cruel and often ineffective stunning methods prior to slaughter. A statistic that will no doubt stand out to many viewers is that an estimated 1.8 million pigs regain consciousness on the production line each year due to poorly executed stunning techniques – and that this practice is still certified “humane”.

Land of Hope and Glory may be a difficult film to watch, but at its heart it is about educating consumers on where their money goes when they use it to purchase meat, eggs and dairy. It’s also a reminder that cruel farming practices are not something on which countries such as the USA have a monopoly. Modern British farming is not what the industry wants you to believe it is. The “happy cow” is a myth, and “humane meat” is a lie. Coming to terms with the truth behind how meat, eggs and dairy are produced in the UK is the first step towards making more informed, ethical decisions, which is something that we should all aspire to do. As Ed says in the closing chapter of the film: “it is ignorance that allows us to consume and purchase without considering the industries that we are supporting. And therefore, informing ourselves of the horrors our purchases perpetuate is not only a liberation for the animals, but indeed for ourselves as well.


Watch the full documentary:

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