Today (16 November) the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) has released its report into Animal welfare in England with a focus on domestic pets, which includes dogs, cats and horses.

A parliamentary enquiry was launched to examine the effectiveness and enforcement of animal welfare laws and the report includes these key recommendations and conclusions for the British government.

    • Pass regulations to protect the genetic viability and welfare of offspring as well as adult dogs
    • Update legislation governing the breeding of dogs with a licensing regime based on modern welfare standard
    • Require anyone breeding two litters or more per year to be licensed as a breeder
      Breeders have an important responsibility to provide for the social development and broader welfare requirements for puppies in their care. We recommend that the legislation governing the breeding of dogs should be updated with a licensing regime based on modern welfare standards
    • A national inspectorate should be established to liaise and support local authorities in enforcing the licensing regime, undertaking inspections and dealing with complaints
    • Ban third party sale of dogs. Dogs should only be available from licensed, regulated breeders or approved rehoming organisations
    • Make it compulsory that all internet pet advertisements should include the registration or licence number of the seller
    • Make the Pet Advertising Advisory Group’s minimum standards mandatory for all websites where pets are advertised and sold
    • Increase the age at which dogs are allowed to enter the United Kingdom under the Pet Travel Scheme to six months
    • Place a statutory duty on local authorities to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. The Government must ensure that appropriate resources are made available to local authorities to support them in this extension of their statutory duties
    • The RSPCA should continue its important work investigating animal welfare cases and working closely with the police and statutory authorities
      It should, however, withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort where there are statutory bodies with a duty to carry out this role. We are not convinced by its arguments that it is in a better position than the CPS to prosecute animal welfare cases
    • Animal welfare cases in England are amongst the lowest in Europe. We recommend the maximum penalty is increased to five years 
    • Examines the potential for the establishment of an animal abuse register of those convicted of animal cruelty offences and who have been disqualified from keeping animals

The committee feels these adaptations will improve the transparency, traceability and enforcement of regulations in the pet trade.

However with the headline of the Commons EFRA’s own press release shared with the report focusing on the RSPCA, it’s no wonder MP Angela Smith, who sat on the committee for this inquiry, and others within the pet industry feels the key message will be derailed.

Gudrun Ravetz, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has commented on the report welcoming the recommendations to realise the full effectiveness of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 but goes on to say, “The RSPCA is currently responsible for over 90% of prosecution activity on animal welfare issues and it is unclear who else would have the resources to take on this vital role. EFRACom’s focus on the RSPCA’s prosecution powers is a disappointing distraction from a report that, otherwise, makes many positive recommendations towards improving UK pet welfare.”

On the topic of the RSPCA, the press release which accompanied the report said:

“The RSPCA should withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort where there are statutory bodies with a duty to carry out this role, MPs on the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee have said.

Followed by this quote on behalf of the chair of the Committee, Neil Parish MP:

“The RSPCA does important working investigating animal welfare cases. And I would like to see its dedicated and professional staff continue that vital work. The Committee is not convinced, however, that the RSPCA is in a better position than the Crown Prosecution Service when it comes to prosecuting animal welfare cases. It should step back from making prosecutions itself, continuing instead to work closely with the police and prosecution service to protect the welfare of animals.”

In a statement released by the office of Angela Smith MP, former Shadow Animal Welfare Minister and present member of the EFRA Select Committee, she said:

“Today’s report by the EFRA select Committee into domestic animal welfare in England is I believe a missed opportunity to effectively promote improvements in animal welfare standards.

“Unfortunately, the report’s very many sensible recommendations are in danger of being overlooked, thanks to the unwarranted attack on the RSPCA.

“This is deeply disappointing and surprising, as during evidence sessions this view gained very little support from those who submitted evidence.”

“Presently the RSPCA is responsible for over 90% of prosecution activity on animal welfare issues in England and the recommendations in the report are to some extent reckless, because there is no other body with the resources, the experience and the expertise necessary to take on this important role.”

Speaking about the report RSPCA chief executive, Jeremy Cooper, said: “Overall this is a very sensible report with lots of progressive measures to improve animal welfare. We do not agree with the recommendation that the RSPCA should no longer prosecute. We are extremely proud of our near 200 years of experience investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty and our 92% success rate – which is currently a higher percentage than the CPS.”

A further recommendation in the report, that a ban on 3rd party sales of puppies should be progressed, are also criticised by the MP because there is little said about how it could be enforced.

Her thoughts are echoed by pet experts who worry it is nothing short of lip service.

Puppy farming campaign group, Puppy Love Campaigns, whose work to investigate puppy farms has resulted in the closure and prosecution of more than 10 puppy farms shared these thoughts on Twitter:

On this Angela point commented; “I think everyone on committee agreed and most of those giving evidence concurred that they would like to see an end to the 3rd party sale of puppies. However, much expert evidence said just banning it would not work.

“Unfortunately, the report has very little to say about how enforcement of a ban would work, how this would be paid for, and who would enforce it, which is disappointing.

“I am also disappointed the Committee didn’t accept much of the expert evidence that a strong and effective licensing system for sales is more likely to have the desired effect of stopping 3rd party sales.”

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