Animal welfare matters to me. By way of background, I was one of a group of backbenchers that campaigned to increase the penalties for people who abuse animals from six months in prison to five years. I also spoke out in favour of a ban on the ivory trade, later announced by the Government. These two measures alone were hailed by the RSPCA at the time as representing “a fortnight of incredible news for animal welfare in the UK”.
The Government is committed to maintaining our world-leading animal welfare standards, as evidenced by the series of ambitious reforms outlined in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare. Building on the Action Plan, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will introduce some of the world’s strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals. I look forward to supporting the Bill as it makes its way through Parliament.
With regard to the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, Ministers recognise that there is a need to safeguard animal welfare, which is why the Government is taking a step-by-step approach, creating enabling legislation for precision-bred plants in the first instance. I am assured that no changes will be made to the regulation of animals under the genetically modified organism (GMO) regime until the regulatory system outlined in the Bill is developed to safeguard animal welfare.
Further, I am aware that before marketing precision-bred animals, developers will need to provide assurances to confirm that the welfare of the animal (and its offspring) will not be adversely affected by any trait resulting from precision breeding. This will be in the form of an animal welfare declaration, with accompanying evidence. The Environment Secretary will need to be satisfied with the declaration before issuing a precision bred (PB) animal marketing authorisation, after which point a PB animal can be marketed. This process will also involve an independent scientific assessment of the declaration.
Finally, it must be noted that all animals, precision bred or otherwise, are protected by pre-existing comprehensive and robust animal health and welfare legislation. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal or to fail to provide for its welfare.