Welfare of Game Birds January 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the welfare of game birds and regulation of the game bird industry.

I appreciate and share your concern about the treatment of some game birds that are bred and reared specifically for the purpose of shooting. I know that dedicated organisations such as the Animal Aid have a long record of campaigning on this issue and I agree that all animals should be treated with care and respect and that they should not suffer unnecessarily or be kept in inappropriate conditions.

I supported the Animal Welfare Act, passed by the previous Labour Government in 2006, which makes it a criminal offence to subject an animal to unnecessary suffering and imposes a duty of care on any person who has responsibility for an animal.

The previous Labour Government also took steps to further improve the welfare of pheasants and partridges bred for use in the game bird industry and published a Code of Practice in March 2010 that would have led to the removal of battery cages the introduction of minimum cage sizes in order to ensure the welfare of game birds. The regulations were consulted on widely and they were endorsed by animal welfare groups as well as the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

I am disappointed, therefore, that the previous Coalition Government decided not to introduce this Code and instead chose to introduce a different, less stringent code that while advising against the use of battery cages continues to allow the use of so-called 'enriched' cages to house game birds and does not include any minimum requirements on cage sizes.

I know that animal welfare groups including Animal Aid, the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA have expressed concern that the Government's new Code does not go far enough and evidence produced by the League Against Cruel Sports shows some distressing examples of continuing low animal welfare standards.

In 2009, the previous Labour Government also commissioned a study to provide scientific evidence on whether cage-based breeding for pheasants and partridges can fully meet birds' needs. The Coalition Government failed to publish its findings during the last Parliament, but as you know, the report was published in August 2015 and concluded that cage enrichment has little impact on animal welfare.

The current Government has stated that it intends to review the statutory Code of Practice for the welfare of game birds reared for sporting purposes in 2016. I hope the Government will listen and respond to the concerns that have been raised by organisations such as Animal Aid about the welfare of game birds reared for shooting.

I can assure you that I will to continue to press the Government on this issue and I thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.