The Labour Party would ban cage egg production on farms in the United Kingdom if it came to power.
The commitment is amongst a number of policies outlined in what it says is a plan for radical action on animal welfare.
Other policies include ending the badger cull – introduced in an attempt to tackle bovine TB – and banning live exports of animals for slaughter or fattening.
Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman says she wants the UK to become a world leader on animal rights.
All the major retailers in the United Kingdom, as well as a number of leading food service companies, have already committed to going cage-free by 2025.
The move followed successful animal welfare campaigns run mainly on the internet. Particularly influential was a petition by schoolgirl Lucy Gavaghan from Sheffield. She initially aimed her campaign at Tesco.
The petition went viral, with huge numbers of signatures, and Tesco eventually said it would stop selling cage eggs by 2025.
Once Tesco committed to going cage-free, she turned her attention to other leading retailers. Asda and Morrisons subsequently made the cage-free commitment and they were followed by discounters Aldi and Lidl and then the convenience chain, Spar.
Sainsbury’s, the Co-op, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer stopped selling cage eggs some years ago.
More recently, campaigners with the Humane League have started pressing the United Kingdom’s biggest egg company, Noble Foods, to go cage free.
Noble, which has been very successful with its high welfare happy egg brand, still has an enriched cage brand in Big and Fresh. Conventional battery cages have been banned in the European Union since the beginning of 2012.
However, whilst leading companies have committed to going cage free, a market for eggs produced in enriched cages is likely to continue – particularly in the processing industry.
The Labour Party has now committed to ending the use of cages.
“Labour is the party of animal welfare,” said Sue Hayman. “From bringing in the ban on fox hunting to tightening the rules on the transport of live animals, Labour has always been consistent in our leadership on matters of animal welfare.
“Today we’re making proposals for real, long-term progress. Our vision is one where no animal is made to suffer unnecessary pain and we continue to drive up standards and practice in line with the most recent advances and understanding.
“With new trade deals on the horizon and the UK no longer subject to EU-wide rules on animal welfare, we want to ensure there is a comprehensive legislative agenda in place so that the UK becomes a world leader on animal rights.”
The Labour Party says its 50-point draft policy document, entitled ‘Animal Welfare For The Many, Not The Few,’ will go out for public consultation.
The party proposes appointing an Animal Welfare Commissioner to ensure that Government policy across Whitehall is continually informed by the latest scientific evidence on animal sentience.
The commissioner would also ensure animal welfare standards were always considered in new legislation and were maintained in Britain’s involvement in international bodies and post-Brexit trade deals, it says.
‘Quality and provenance’
Concerns about animal welfare have been raised during the Brexit debate, with many people fearing that the UK’s animal welfare standards could be ditched in a rush to clinch trade deals with countries like the United States, where regulations are less stringent than the European Union rules under which the UK currently operates.
US president Donald Trump’s commerce secretary Wilbur Ross told business leaders at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London that any post-Brexit deal with Washington would hinge on the UK scrapping rules set by Brussels.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has insisted that the UK will not weaken animal welfare standards.
At the Oxford Farming Conference, he said: “Food and drink is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector and one of its fastest growing, with an increase of eight per cent in exports to the EU and 10 per cent in exports outside the EU in the first three quarters of last year alone.
“That success has been built on a reputation for quality and provenance, on the knowledge that we have among the highest environmental and animal welfare standards of any nation on earth.
“So people know when they’re buying British they’re buying food which is guaranteed to be high quality and more sustainable,” he said.
“That’s why it would be foolish for us to lower animal welfare or environmental standards in any trade deal, and in so doing undercut our own reputation for quality. We will succeed in the global market place because we are competing at the top of the value chain, not trying to win a race to the bottom.”
‘End use of cages’
Now, Labour is proposing a series of measures to strengthen animal welfare rules in the UK. Amongst the measures listed is one to “end use of cages on British farms.”
Other measures include banning live exports for slaughter or fattening. This would include an exemption for breeding animals, providing provision was in place ensuring they were transported under genuinely high welfare standards.
There would also be an exemption for livestock transported across the Northern Ireland border.
Mandatory labelling of meat, both domestic and imported, would be required, including details on country of origin, method of production and method of slaughter (stun or non-stun).
There would be a total ban on imports of foie gras; guidance to end the use of antibiotics for routine, preventative purposes on farm animals; introduction of mandatory CCTV in all slaughterhouses; a formal whistle blowing procedure through the Food Standards Agency to enable employees to report “bad behaviour and practice” within abattoirs; and a review of training and standards within slaughterhouses.
The party would introduce a phased ban on sow farrowing crates, with “a reasonable phase-out period, replacing with safe, free-farrowing systems.”
It says it would consult on the expansion of “megafarms” to “detail their effects on animal welfare standards.”
It says, “The recent increase in industrialised farming under this Conservative government poses serious questions in relation to animal welfare post-Brexit.”
The document says that a Labour government would draft post-Brexit farm subsidies to “move away from intensive factory farming and bad environmental practices.”