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Political parties divided on animal welfare issues ahead of election

News Section Icon Published 22/05/2024

The four largest political parties in Westminster set out their animal welfare positions and commitments so far at a landmark first-of-its-kind 'Animals Matter' hustings in Westminster yesterday evening as politicians and the public await the next general election.

The Labour Party has committed to ending the import of foie gras if elected. Speaking at the Animals Matter hustings, hosted by four of the UK’s leading animal protection organisations (Compassion in World Farming, FOUR PAWS UK, Humane Society International/UK and RSPCA), Ruth Jones MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Environment Food and Rural Affairs told the audience: “In terms of foie gras, yes we will ban it”, a move that would effectively bring an end to the sale of the cruel fattened duck and goose liver in the UK.

TV celebrity and animal campaigner Pete Wicks addressed a question to the panel about the fur trade, recounting his experience visiting a fur farm in Finland and how the cruelty he saw made him ashamed that fur from animals suffering in barren cages could end up being sold in the UK. Wicks asked the parties if they would commit to “ending imports of disgustingly cruel products like fur and foie gras”.

In response, SNP panellist Steven Bonnar MP, Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, stated that the SNP is “fully committed to ban fur and foie gras imports”, calling them “barbaric practices”.

Other party spokespeople stopped short of committing to banning fur imports, with Ruth Jones MP (Labour) telling the audience it’s “an obvious one” because of the strength of public support for a ban, but that Labour is waiting on the Government to release the results of its Call for Evidence on the fur market in Great Britain. 

The Call for Evidence was launched in May 2021 with the stated intention of using the findings to inform possible future action on the UK fur trade, but over three years on, despite repeated calls from MPs and animal protection organisations, Defra has yet to make the results publicly available. Rebecca Pow MP responded by saying these results would be published “very soon”.

On cracking down on illegal hunting with dogs, the Labour and SNP panellists confirmed they would strengthen the Hunting Act, to close loopholes that facilitate illegal hunting with dogs and to increase penalties, however when pressed for a yes or no answer on whether the Hunting Act should be strengthened the Conservative Minister Rebecca Pow said: “leave it as it is”.

Representing the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron MP committed to ending the cage age for hens saying “we should ban it" adding that “if we set higher standards for our farmers we need to be applying that also for imports coming into this country because we want to make sure we spread good animal welfare practice across the world”.

The SNP's Steven Bonnar MP commented: "The SNP knows that animals matter; to our climate, to our health, to our economy, and to all of us as sentient beings. The SNP is proud of its record on animal welfare and we are committed to maintaining our place as leading the way in progressing animal welfare standards across the UK. We will continue to adopt the highest possible standards, including shifting to entirely free range, woodland or barn chicken and egg production, and we will seek to protect Scotland’s exquisite produce while backing those who produce it for us. We will also push for bans on trading in cruelty, including stopping the imports of fur, foie gras and hunting trophies, as we know that these cruelties have no place in our nation of animal lovers."

Conservative Rebecca Pow said “we're going to be supporting our livestock farmers using public funds to pay for health and welfare enhancements. We also want to make it easier for farmers to transition to the types of production systems that we know the public value. So for example, enabling them to move away from farrowing crates for pigs. We want our animals to be well kept and safe.” She added: “We just dramatically increased the budget for horticulture to help farmers and growers produce more of our vegetables. That's a real priority.”

Speaking about fur imports Ruth Jones from Labour said “royalty have said they don't wear it anymore. The public don't want it.” She went on to add that if elected, Labour would “build on our legacy and make animal protection a priority, including cracking down on smuggling of puppies and banning the import of hunting trophies. All animals deserve to be protected against inhumane shipment and to be able to live a life of dignity.”

A spokesperson for the Animals Matter coalition said: "We welcome the parties using this platform as an early opportunity to set out their stalls on many critical issues that impact the welfare of millions of sentient beings. The two biggest parties have yet to take a stance on many points, including caging of animals on farms and imports of fur, and we encourage them to include strong commitments in their manifestos. At the upcoming election millions of compassionate voters will be looking at which political parties commit to translate warm words into concrete policies that will improve the welfare of millions of animals at home and abroad.”

Attending the event, Green Party Deputy Leader Zack Polanski told the room that his party would introduce an Animal Protection Commissioner, saying: “we need to make sure that when animals can’t speak up for themselves, we have people elected in Parliament and a Minister in Parliament who can”. Polanski also accused the main parties of being a “weathervane and not a signpost” in tackling animal cruelty, and said that the Green Party would prioritise animal welfare and decency above big profits to big business.

Actor and animal advocate Peter Egan was also in attendance, and said: “Animals matter so much to me. That’s why 15 years ago, I stopped eating them, wearing them, or using them for entertainment, and I find a plant-based life is the most compassionate way of living and it answers a huge amount of the problems that we’re discussing here tonight.”

Protecting animals is a priority for millions of voters, with more than two thirds of UK voters saying that political parties who implement better animal welfare policies have the right priorities.

The event provided a platform for party spokespeople to be directly questioned on their plans, both by the audience and panel moderator ITV news presenter Lucrezia Millarini, across a number of high-profile issues including fox hunting, ending intensive farming practices such as keeping hens and sows confined in cages, and the import and sale of fur, and to address whether they will attempt to deliver on the expectations of millions of animal loving voters when the country goes to the polls. While party manifestos have not yet been finalised, there were commitments put forward by spokespeople which could make a difference for animals across the country. 


For more information or to arrange an interview please email or call 01483 521 615.

Notes to Editors:

Panellists at the event listed below:

  • Rebecca Pow MP (Conservative), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Ruth Jones MP (Labour),Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
  • Tim Farron MP (Liberal Democrats), Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Steven Bonnar MP (SNP), Environment, Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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