An increasing number of MPs are backing calls for CCTV to be made mandatory in UK slaughterhouses. Now over 30 have signed an early day motion calling on the government to act, with Dewsbury Conservative MP Simon Reevell and York Labour MP Hugh Bayley amongst the latest to add their signatures.
MPs have been left disturbed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ decision [DEFRA] not to prosecute when evidence of animal welfare abuses has been gathered secretly. And whilst DEFRA has recently had its prosecution powers passed over to the Crown Prosecution Service MPs are keen on further action to defend what they term is ‘the UK’s position as a world leader on animal welfare regulations.’
The MPs have acted after secret filming methods were employed over a 30-month period from January 2009 by national campaign group Animal Aid. This revealed shocking levels of abuse in eight out of the nine slaughterhouses they filmed. These included multiple stuns being needed to render animals unconscious before slaughter and animals being kicked and hit in the face. At Cheale Meats, a family run firm in Essex, workers were shown in June this year stubbing out cigarettes on pig’s faces. None is to face prosecution.
Animal Aid’s exposure led to another Essex slaughterhouse closing down after A&G Barber had major contracts cancelled. Meanwhile during Labour’s time in office cases were built by DEFRA for prosecution – under the Welfare of Animals Regulations [Slaughter or Killing] of 1995 - against four operators and nine men. These were dropped in August 2010 after DEFRA lawyers concluded that ‘legal action can only be taken where evidence has been gathered legally’ which they determined ruled out using a hidden camera.
Yet in comparison Panorama’s ‘Undercover Care - the abuse exposed’, that revealed shocking mistreatment by staff at Bristol’s Winterbourne View residential hospital for patients with learning disabilities, and which was filmed secretly, is now being used to prosecute.
Meanwhile DEFRA has defended its position not to require slaughterhouses to make compulsory use of CCTV. They’ve done so on the grounds that because a new piece of European Legislation, effective from January 1st 2013, does not include such provision the UK is prevented from ‘introducing stricter national measures such as CCTV.’
However when Animal Aid asked the European Union on this they were told ‘it is in the domain of the competent authorities of the Member States to take the necessary measures in order to ensure compliance with the requirements of EU legislation.’ This would appear to pave the way to allow the UK government to introduce CCTV if it chose to do so in Britain’s 350 plus slaughterhouses.
Kate Fowler, Animal Aid’s Head of Campaigns, is pleased “that an increasing number of MPs are signing the early day motion.” Even with Animal Aid having earlier this year claimed that ‘This government could hardly have done more to damage animal protection’ she’s still confident that the coalition can “be forced to change their minds because the public feels very strongly about this issue and some supermarkets have already forced their suppliers to introduce CCTV.”
But does it matter if animals that are only a few minutes away from being slaughtered aren’t properly treated? “Yes, it does. All animals - no matter their circumstances - deserve to be treated with respect and to be spared deliberate suffering. This is what the law demands and what the public expects, especially after we’ve revealed shocking levels of abuse in Britain’s slaughterhouses” said Fowler.
Whilst DEFRA said “We care deeply about animal welfare and are horrified by any abuse’ they refused to respond to a series of questions put to them.
Grahame Morris, the MP behind the early day motion, said he would like to see “all those passionate about animal welfare contacting their MPs to support the motion and protect animals from unnecessary cruelty.” Morris, the MP for Easington Colliery, County Durham accused DEFRA of dithering and delaying and having lost “all sense of purpose” on animal welfare.