Lorraine Platt is Co-Founder Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.
In the final days of the leadership contest Liz Truss tweeted, “We need to prove to people who voted for us in 2019 that we can deliver what we promised in our Conservative Manifesto.” This was, of course, the same Manifesto that unapologetically positioned the Conservatives as the Party to improve the health of our planet and the welfare of our animals. Yet, within weeks of tweeting her support for these commitments, concerns have already circulated that key Conservative Party Manifesto pledges have been dropped from the Government’s agenda relating to animal welfare.
Specifically, Manifesto commitments to end live animal exports for fattening and slaughter, as well as ending trophy hunting imports, are rumoured to be in danger of being left behind. Live animal exports, whereby British raised animals spend days -sometimes even weeks- on long journeys where they are frequently unfed and kept in cramped conditions, must be ended.
Indeed, many undercover investigations over the last 10 years have revealed the unspeakable conditions calves endure at just a few weeks old as they are transported from their British farms to foreign countries for fattening and slaughter. We have no guarantee that these countries share our animal welfare standard; once they leave our shores, we have no control over the conditions they are kept it, and the method by which they are slaughtered. The reality is, without legislation, there is nothing to stop this practice from continuing or even expanding in the future.
Aside from the clear animal welfare concerns associated with live exports, this policy, included in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, represents decades of work spanning across Government Departments. It was first raised more than 45 years ago in 1977 by Janet Fookes, Conservative MP (now Peer). In the years that have followed, it has been the focus of many consultations, parliamentary debates, and evidence taking sessions. Of course, in 1977 this policy was not legal due to our membership of the European Union, but since Brexit this is now a real possibility. Indeed, ending live exports has been often cited as a key ‘Brexit bonus’; an opportunity for the UK to lead the way in cementing high animal welfare standards as a free, independent country.
It is also important as we approach another by-election in the coming weeks, that we, as Party members, can speak with integrity on the doorstep about the promises made to voters on the issues they care about. Animal welfare consistently ranks highly on the public’s priorities; a recent poll, for instance, showed 87% of people in the UK want the Government to maintain or increase its level of action on animal protection. Many of these people voted for the Conservative Party in 2019 on the basis of the compassionate, ambitious approach to animal welfare promised in the Party’s Manifesto.
Conservative opinion polls specifically show overwhelming support for the animal welfare measures included in the Manifesto. The Government’s policy of ending trophy hunting imports, for instance, show 92% of those polled in favour of this legislation coming into force as soon as possible. The UK is a nation of animal lovers and by recognising this sentiment, the 2019 Manifesto undoubtedly contributed to the Conservatives’ electoral success whereby almost 14 million people awarded the Party its highest percentage of the popular vote since 1979.
As we urge for these important, long-awaited measures to come to fruition, we must of course be sensitive to the wider political landscape. Nobody would deny that pressing issues like the ever-growing cost of living crisis should be front and centre of parliamentary time. But this should not prevent -or, in the worst case- be used as an excuse to delay, us from delivering on key pledges in the Conservative Party Manifesto. Addressing our nation’s economic challenges and improving the lives of animals must not be viewed as a binary choice for the Government.
Whether or not live exports, and other animal welfare measures, will in fact be dropped from the Government’s agenda remains to be confirmed. Our new Prime Minister has a great opportunity to make Great Britain the first country in Europe to end the gruelling journeys farmed animals endure as they are transported overseas. I hope that Truss, and our new Defra leadership, will ensure such important, popular, and much needed policies are delivered. In doing so, the UK can truly cement its place as a world-leader in animal welfare and show the world that we do not need to choose between these high standards and economic growth.