How do the parties compare on animal welfare?

As I’ve set out in previous blogs, I think improving animal welfare should be a big concern for everyone due to the combination of appalling treatment and the vast number of sentient beings affected. To be very clear, I think animal agriculture is currently the greatest cause of suffering in the world (which is really saying something) and we all have an obligation to ameliorate and/or end it as soon as possible. In part, that means demanding action through political parties. So who should you vote for, or avoid voting for, if animal welfare is a priority?

In the table below, I’ve tried to concentrate on the biggest UK animal populations and the biggest issues, avoiding what I see as relatively cheap distractions (however welcome in themselves). Every party proposes to ban the keeping of primates as pets, for example, but the number of such animals is relatively tiny – which is why a ban is so uncontroversial. Similarly, every party wants to strengthen sentences for animal cruelty convictions, but the far bigger problem is that all manner of appalling abuses are currently legal and take place on an industrial scale.

LabourLib DemsConservatives
178m chickens & 11m other poultryend the use of cages on British farms by 2025; strengthen the statutory codes of practice; ban imports of foie grasa ban on caged hens-
41m pheasants and partridgestighter legislation on rearing of game birds; (and independent review of grouse shooting)--
38m sheepstrengthen the statutory codes of practice--
20m cats & dogsban the use of animal shock collars; increased measures to tackle puppy smuggling; expand mandatory microchipping to cats; expand the reporting of motor accidents to include catsclamp down on illegal pet importsbring forward cat microchipping; crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies
10m cowsstrengthen the statutory codes of practice; ban live exports for slaughter and
prevent dehorningend excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening
5m pigsintroduce a phased ban on sow farrowing crates; strengthen the statutory codes of practice--
Sealifebring in a ban on electric pulse fishing; (end the practice of lobsters being boiled alive)--
Farmed fish---
Change demandaim to achieve net-zero-carbon food production in Britain by 2040; ask Public Health England to review dietary health guidelines; review food labellinga National Food Strategy, inc. the use of public procurement policyNational Food Strategy

Labour manifesto
Labour animal welfare manifesto

Labour environment manifesto
Lib Dem manifesto
Lib Dem conference policy
Conservative manifesto

Note: UK populations are snapshots for mid-2018 where possible. Over a whole year around 1.2 billion poultry birds are slaughtered.

If you think I’ve missed anything significant, get in touch. I have not included the Green Party, despite their very strong policies on animal welfare and on “phasing in a tax on meat and dairy products over the next ten years”. The Greens will win only 1 MP and – in our crazy electoral system – if you’re in a seat where the result of the election isn’t certain, a vote for the Greens is close to being a vote for the Conservatives. I have also not included the SNP manifesto which, as far as I can see, does not have policies on any of the issues above, though (to be fair) most is devolved to Holyrood. And the Plaid Cymru manifesto has an animal welfare section, including policies for pets, but does not propose any specific improvements for farmed animals.

Despite the Conservatives‘ warm words about animal welfare, there’s little of substance on UK factory farming, with the welcome exception of ending “excessively” long journeys for slaughter and fattening. They have previously suggested that foie gras imports might be banned, but that doesn’t seem to have made it in.

The Lib Dems (and I should point out I am a party member) want to “improve standards of animal health and welfare in agriculture, including a ban on caged hens, and promote the responsible use of antimicrobials”, but – aside from that significant ban – the party still has disappointingly little to say about specifics.

Labour, clearly, have the most detailed policies, having produced a dedicated animal welfare manifesto. They don’t go as far as I’d like (of course), and quite a bit remains vague. But the amount of suffering that could be reduced by ending the use of cages by 2025 and introducing a phased ban on sow farrowing crates alone is very significant. And it’s nice to see a party straightforwardly say that it would stop lobsters being boiled alive, for example.

Among all of the other issues at play in this election (not least climate change and Brexit), I hope you’ll bear the parties’ animal welfare positions in mind when you vote. I know I will.

See also: Compassion in World Farming’s take on the parties’ manifestos

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