In an effort to raise animal welfare standards, the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs in London published the Animal Welfare Bill in October. The bill applies primarily to pet owners in England and Wales, while one minor provision applies to those in Scotland. The bill was introduced in the House of Commons and will continue through the parliamentary process, potentially leading to its enactment.
If the bill passes, its influence could stretch beyond the United Kingdom. Certain anticruelty movements have started in England and then moved to the United States, said Ledy VanKavage, attorney for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. For example, VanKavage said, the ASPCA was based on England's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The animal welfare bill focuses on the keeping of "non-farmed" animals. The bill would not affect animals used in scientific procedures, which are covered under other legislation. Farmed animals in the country already have a high standard of protection, the DEFRA stated, as a result of welfare codes put in place by the U.K. Parliament.
Ben Bradshaw, a DEFRA minister, said, "The vast majority of pet owners and others involved with the care of animals have nothing to fear from this legislation. This bill is aimed at those few who do not properly fulfill their responsibilities for the animals in their charge."
The bill was meant to modernize the Protection of Animals Act of 1911 and combines more than 20 pieces of legislation into one, making it simpler for law enforcers and animal owners to follow.
"This is a much more appropriate way to ensure an animal's welfare than relying on a 94-year-old law that was only designed to prevent outright cruelty," Bradshaw said. For example, the 1911 Act does not allow action to be taken until after animal suffering has occurred. In contrast, legislation for the welfare of farmed animals allows for earlier intervention, DEFRA reported.
"I find it intriguing that, in England now, the stricter standards are regarding farm animals as opposed to companion animals," VanKavage said. "That's quite at odds as to what we experience here in most of our states, where for companion animals, (there are) much harsher penalties for harming them than for (harming) farm animals."
Other highlights from the bill include strengthened penalties and eliminated loopholes to deter persistent offenders, and banned mutilations of animals with certain specified exemptions. The bill would increase from 12 to 16 the minimum age a child may buy an animal and would prohibit the giving of pets as prizes to unaccompanied children under age 16.
To view the animal welfare bill, visit www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/welfare/bill/index.htm and click on "Animal Welfare Bill."