Animal welfare issues always feature strongly in my email inbox. Most recently I have received many emails calling for a ban on imports of animal fur.
I know animal welfare charities have long campaigned against the fur trade and I believe the humane treatment of all animals should be a benchmark for any civilised society.
Fur farming in the EU mainly involves minks and foxes. In the wild, these animals are predominately solitary and occupy large expanses of land (for example, male minks occupy around 2,500 acres of wetland territory). Those involved in the fur trade, though, are kept in small wire cages and studies have demonstrated that animals kept in this manner exhibit stereotypical symptoms of distress. In 2001, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW) investigated this matter and recommended improvements in regulatory requirements for mink and fox cages.
I welcomed the ban on fur farming in the UK and the 2006 Animal Welfare Act which put into law the most fundamental piece of animal welfare legislation for nearly a century. This Act set legal minimum standards for animal welfare and tougher penalties for cruelty against animals. It also introduced a new duty of care on people to ensure the needs of any animal for which they are responsible, and made it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.
I would like to see animal welfare standards improve overseas as well as in the UK. National governments have a duty to work together to fight animal cruelty across the world and I therefore hope that we can continue to work with our neighbours across Europe to continue to raise welfare standards. For example, Denmark – the world’s largest mink fur producer – is currently in the process of phasing out fur farming, and the Netherlands has recently banned the farming of foxes and chinchillas, so it seems clear to me that other countries find the practice abhorrent too.
The Government has said that current arrangements for our environment will remain in place until we leave the EU. But I am concerned many environmental protections are at risk. Despite repeated questioning by Opposition MPs, the Government has failed to set out the effects on the UK of leaving the EU – not least which environmental protections and regulations it will, or will not, retain. I believe the Government needs to set out its strategy for the future and whether it remains committed to the current, hard-won, animal welfare and environmental protections and what more they will do to show leadership in this area.