General election 2017: what do political party manifestos pledge on animal welfare policy?

1 Jun 2017
Top of timber clad contemporary building against a bright blue sky

With the general election taking place on 8 June, Dr Steven McCulloch, Lecturer in Human-Animal Studies based in the Centre for Animal Welfare at the University, looks at the policies related to animal welfare set out in the political parties’ manifestos. 

In Britain we have a proud history of animal protection. The Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap general election for Thursday 8 June 2017. Voters have the welfare of some 50 million farm, four million laboratory, 15 million dogs and cats, and a host of other sentient species to consider. These animals are impacted by government policy in myriad ways, and Brexit has serious implications for billions of sentient animals going forward.

A number of animal issues are high on the political agenda. Brexit-related issues include the future of UK food and farming; live animal exports; trade impacts on welfare; and religious/non-stun slaughter. Mandatory surveillance in slaughterhouses follows a number of highly publicised exposés of shocking abuses. Bovine tuberculosis (TB) and badger culling continues to be a highly controversial policy issue. Theresa May has announced a free vote on the Hunting Act. Manifestos have policy statements on pet imports and minimum sentencing for animal cruelty cases.

As the general election nears, I’m taking a look at each of the party manifestos in turn and offer an overview of their policies in relation to animal welfare. I cover political parties with seats in the 2015-17 Parliament. Given the subject matter of the blog, I also cover the Animal Welfare Party.

Animal Welfare Party

The Animal Welfare Party, led by Vanessa Hudson, is the only political party in the UK dedicated to animals. Its sister organisation in the Netherlands, Party for the Animals, holds seats in the Senate and House of Representatives. The Animal Welfare Party vision is a world where animals are not exploited and are treated as sentient beings. The party believes that animals have an interest in being alive, avoiding suffering and experiencing positive states. Humans therefore have a duty to respect the interests of sentient animals.

The Animal Welfare Party manifesto includes extensive discussion on its vision of animals in society. It has detailed sections on animals used in farming, as companions, for research and education, for entertainment and sport, as well as policy on wild animals. Key policies include ending the badger cull and opposing the repeal of the Hunting Act. Farm subsidies should be redirected toward a plant based diet for environmental and animal welfare reasons. Farming practices associated with poor welfare are to be phased out, as is animal experimentation, with binding targets for reduction. The live animal export trade is to be ended and journey times for animals travelling in the UK minimised. The Animal Welfare Party supports mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses and the clear labelling of animal products with information on the environmental and animal welfare circumstances under which it was produced. 

In addition to the progressive policy positions on sentient animals, the Animal Welfare Party has policy statements in staple domestic and foreign policy areas. For instance, the Animal Welfare Party opposes a hard Brexit and supports a referendum on the ratification of the negotiated exit deal.

Conservative Party

In the Conservative Party manifesto Forward Together, animal welfare policy is found in the section ‘Our countryside communities’ under ‘Stronger communities from a stronger economy’. In Conservative policy, sentient animals are not part of the community, but are part of the economy. The Conservative manifesto does not mention badger culling – currently the most controversial animal policy. Badger culling was shown by the Independent Expert Group to be ineffective and inhumane, yet the Conservative Party has recently rolled out the policy of four-year-culls out to five new areas.

Theresa May’s announcement on foxhunting has been much publicised. However, the greatest risk to animal welfare in the Conservative manifesto relates to food and farming. The Conservative Party has "huge ambitions" for the farming industry … "we are determined to grow more, sell more and export more" (p25). The manifesto may be referring to so-called 'sustainable intensification', a response to increasing food production under environmental constraints. Animal welfare groups have criticised sustainable intensification, particularly for its potential impact on farm animal welfare.

The Conservative manifesto includes a promise to implement proposed reforms to pet sales and licensing, and to make CCTV recording in slaughterhouses mandatory. The manifesto also states: "As we leave the European Union, we can take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter" (p26) (italics mine). If the Conservatives are elected, the British people should remember these pledges. The Conservative government did not fulfil its previous 2015 manifesto pledge to ban wild animals in travelling circuses. Furthermore, Forward Together drops a previous 2015 manifesto pledge to ban ivory trading.

On foxhunting, the manifesto pledges: "We will grant a free vote, on a government bill in government time, to give parliament the opportunity to decide the future of the Hunting Act" (p26). The pro-hunting arguments on conservation and the claim that foxes do not suffer during the hunt were thoroughly debunked a decade ago. Ultimately, the debate is about the right of a minority to hunt foxes against the suffering experienced by those hunted foxes. Should a civilised society restrict some human liberties to protect the welfare of sentient animals? In the context of foxhunting, the Conservative leadership holds that we should not. In contrast, animal protectionists argue that we should.

Democratic Unionist Party

The DUP manifesto Standing Strong for Northern Ireland pledges a Northern Ireland Register of Animal Cruelty Offenders. The manifesto also states that court sentences should reflect the seriousness of animal cruelty offences committed.

Green Party

The Green Party’s ‘Green Guarantee’ is found in its main manifesto For a Confident and Caring Britain. It promises an Environmental Protection Act that will protect the environment, enhance biodiversity, promote sustainable farming and "ensure animal protection" (p7). The Green Party has also published a manifesto specifically on animal policy—the Animal Protection Manifesto. The Animal Protection Manifesto is a very progressive policy statement that includes the following seven pledges:

  1. Ending factory farming
  2. Strengthening the Hunting Act and ending the badger cull
  3. Protecting wildlife and habitats
  4. A comprehensive review of companion animal breeding and licensing legislation
  5. Ending animal experimentation
  6. Ending animal suffering in sport and entertainment
  7. Giving animals a voice in government policy-making.

Each of these pledges includes more specific policies. The pledge to end factory farming includes a complete ban on all cages, close confinement systems and zero-grazing for dairy cows; an end to live animal exports; and a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy products. The pledge to end the suffering of animals in experiments includes immediate action to stop primate, cat and dog use in research; an end to toxicity testing on animals; and the provision of funding for research that does not use animals. The pledge to give animals a voice in policy-making includes the creation of an Animal Protection Commission to ensure animal welfare is a significant government policy goal; the inclusion of animal welfare as a direct factor in government Impact Assessments; and the inclusion of animal welfare education in schools.

Labour Party

A photograph of a badger accompanies the Labour Party manifesto section on animal welfare policy

The Labour Party manifesto For the Many Not the Few includes a dedicated, albeit relatively brief, section 'Animal Welfare' in the chapter 'Leading Richer Lives'. The manifesto states Labour’s vision as leading the world on animal welfare. The Labour Party would promote "cruelty-free" husbandry and consult on how to improve enforcement. It would prohibit third party selling of puppies, enforce a total ban on trading ivory, and support the banning of wild animals in circuses. The Labour Party would "cease" the badger cull, citing that it spreads bovine tuberculosis. The manifesto reports how Labour ended fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing, and states that the bans are safe only under a Labour government.

Liberal Democrat Party

The Liberal Democrat Change Britain’s Future manifesto subsumes animal welfare policy under the 'Keep our Country Green' section. It advocates an increase in maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years; a complete ban on (enriched) caged hens; a "clamp down" on the illegal import of pets (p52); and minimising animal use in scientific experiments.

In its 'Farming, food and agriculture' section, the manifesto warns of the danger of Brexit and proposes replacing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with a subsidy that moves away from large landowners and supports smaller farmers. The Liberal Democrats would update farm animal welfare codes and promote responsible antimicrobial use in farm animals. The Party pledges that trade deals will require high animal welfare standards for imports, with clear labels indicating country of origin.

On bovine tuberculosis, the Party would develop "safe, effective, humane and evidence-based" methods (p53). Given that the badger cull has been widely criticised as inhumane and not based on scientific evidence, the Liberal Democrats are presumably opposed to further culling.

Plaid Cymru

The Plaid Cymru manifesto Action Plan 2017 refers to animal protection policy in its 'Putting energy into our environment' section. The manifesto states that wildlife species are at risk of disappearing. Plaid Cymru would consolidate Welsh wildlife legislation with a Wildlife Act for Wales. It would continue to call for a Welsh Animal Abuse Register. The Plaid Cymru manifesto does not mention bovine tuberculosis. The Party previously supported badger culling, but has more recently moved to an evidence-based position.

Scottish Nationalist Party

The SNP manifesto Stronger for Scotland includes a single sentence 'Animal welfare' section under 'Protecting our environment and tackling climate change'. The section simply states that the SNP will oppose any relaxation of fox hunting legislation.

Sinn Féin

The Sinn Féin manifesto does not include any policy statements on animal welfare.

Social Democratic Labour Party

The SDLP manifesto Taking our Seats and Taking a Stand includes a short section on 'Animal Cruelty'. The manifesto states that the SDLP has a "strong, longstanding" position against the "barbaric" activity of fox hunting and will oppose this in Parliament (p26).

UK Independence Party

UKIP's manifesto Britain Together includes some progressive animal welfare policy, with a nationalist twist. In the section 'Food Production and Animal Welfare', the manifesto highlights that leaving the EU means leaving the CAP. This means the UK can prioritise its own farming objectives. UKIP would replace the CAP with a Single Farm Payment, which it claims to be more ethical. Whereas the CAP discriminated in favour of large intensive farms, the Single Farm Payment would support smaller enterprises, since subsidies would be capped at £120,000 annually. Furthermore, UKIP would pay organic farmers 25% more, and provide additional support for hill farmers. 

The manifesto stresses that EU law prevents the prohibition of live exports as well as the labelling of food killed as halal or shechita. UKIP would ban the live export of animals for slaughter. It would forbid Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughter carried out by "unqualified individuals in unregulated premises" (p55). It would triple maximum jail sentences for cruelty to animals and "continually challenge" companies on the necessity of animal testing.

Voting on behalf of animals

Sentient animals cannot make moral choices between right and wrong. They cannot be held responsible for their actions as adult humans can. Sentient animals are, however, affected by the actions of humans. Sentient animals are therefore moral patients but they are not moral agents.

Similarly, we can say that sentient animals are not political agents. The millions of farm, experimental, companion and wild animals are disenfranchised from our political communities. Despite this, they are affected, often severely, by the policies of our elected representatives in government. Thus, sentient animals are political patients, in the same way that they are moral patients.

Voters that call themselves animal welfarists, animal rightists, animal protectionists, and animal lovers should carefully consider the various policy statements, found in party manifestos, on these disenfrachised animals when they cast their vote at the ballot box in the 2017 general election.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the University.

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