Opinion Former Article

RSPCA: Animal welfare manifesto

The RSPCA has identified four key priority issues for the 2010 election: status dogs; food labelling; wild animals and circuses; and animal experiments. We will be asking all political parties to address these issues at a national level.

Status Dogs

Status (and dangerous) dogs is an increasingly important issue not only for animal welfare but also for its links to anti-social behaviour, crime, and human safety. Status dogs are any breeds or types that are kept and used to intimidate the public often as 'weapons' by gangs but also protect criminal assets. They are typically big powerful dogs such as mastiffs, bull breeds, Rottweillers and Akitas.

These types of dogs are often used for fighting, either to settle scores, intimidate other people or simply to test the toughness of the dogs. This is an animal welfare problem that the RSPCA has to tackle each day. For example, our Harmsworth animal hospital in north London saw 22 dogs brought in with fighting wounds just in October 2009 alone.

Between 2004 and 2008 there was a 12-fold increase in complaints received by the RSPCA about dog-fighting (the vast majority of which concerned anti-social behaviour with dogs). In London, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has seen a 19-fold increase.

The RSPCA believes that a two-pronged approach must be taken to tackle the problem of status and dangerous dogs. It is currently working with the police and local authorities to ensure effective enforcement of existing dog control legislation and to educate local communities about responsible dog ownership. The RSPCA is also helping to encourage a better uptake of dog microchipping and neutering.

However, in the long-term the RSPCA believes that existing dog control legislation must be updated. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 currently bans, amongst other things, the breeding, sale or exchange of four types of dog traditionally used for fighting - Pit Bull terriers, Japanese Tosas, Dogo Argentinos and Fila Brasileiros. However, it is clear that this legislation has not had the desired affect as RSPCA inspectors, local dog wardens and police officers are encountering more powerful cross-breeds of these and other types of dogs.

The RSPCA would like politicians to commit to updating and consolidating dog control legislation to focus on the actions of the owner and on preventing irresponsible dog ownership. Any type of dog can be owned irresponsibly and no dog should be penalised just because of its genetic make-up.

We are currently drafting proposals with the police and local authorities (all of which use the present laws) that we jointly feel would improve the situation. We would also urge the more targeted use of microchipping as a potential tool to deal with the issues of un-owned dogs, which can also be done under the dog control legislation.

Please download the documents on the left hand side of the page to find out further information on what the RSPCA is calling on political parties to support.

Dog licensing
Although there is further work that needs to be done to establish how it would be implemented, administered and enforced, the RSPCA believes that the re-introduction of an updated dog licence could help to fund a wider dog health and welfare strategy nationally.

This could provide vital additional capital to fund dog-related services, such as local authority dog wardens to tackle stray or dangerous dogs, microchipping and neutering programs. It could also help to resource both the provision of more comprehensive information and advice to the public and greater research into dog related issues such as puppy farming and hereditary problems.

In-depth briefing on status dogs

Supporters briefing on status dogs

Advice for keeping children safe around dogs

Briefing on dog licensing

Food Labelling

Consumers require clear labelling of food to ensure that their aspirational choices on animal welfare can be turned into actual purchasing behaviour. Labelling also makes it possible for producers of higher welfare standards to gain due recognition for this and recover some of their increased production costs in the market place. Labelling can be one of the least trade restrictive measures so can be a preferred legislative option.

In November 2009 the European Commission released their preferred options for labelling in the EU. This outlines some options to give better information to consumers and an economic incentive to producers to shift to higher welfare. It proposes harmonising the requirements for welfare claims in voluntary labelling schemes, the establishment of a voluntary Community Label for animal welfare claims and drafting guidelines for animal welfare schemes.

The RSPCA would support the introduction of a European logo showing adherence to higher animal welfare standards, providing those standards were clearly above the baseline. We would also support moves to establish harmonised requirements for any voluntary claims made on animal welfare labels. Both options would make existing labelling more transparent and auditable and would avoid problems of discrimination with products from other third countries.

Chicken welfare
The RSPCA has been campaigning for chickens for a number of years. In 2007, Council Directive 2007/43/EC setting out minimum standards for the protection of chickens reared for meat production was passed by the EU. We were very disappointed that the Directive did not go far enough to address some serious welfare concerns, particulary relating to fast growth rates. However, the Directive is a step in the right direction as it will bring in common standards across the EU.

It is likely now that the Directive will be transposed into UK law after the General Election. The RSPCA is calling on the next Government to make sure that the UK's current standards of chicken welfare are not reduced, despite the Directive permitting lower levels of chicken welfare.


Supporters brief on higher welfare farming and labelling

In-depth briefing on labelling

Parliamentary briefing on chickens bred for meat

Wild Animals & Circuses

The RSPCA is currently campaigning for a ban on wild animals in circuses in England and Wales. We believe that it is both an animal welfare and an ethical issue for wild animals to be kept in close confinement in circuses and made to perform abnormal behaviour, and we do not believe that this does anything to educate the public or foster respect for animals.

There are currently an estimated 150-200 performing animals in circuses in the UK, with around 38 of these being wild animals including lions, tigers, elephants, snakes and zebras. Successive polls by the RSPCA have shown that the majority of the public support a ban on wild animals in circuses. Whilst the number of wild animals in circuses has reduced in the past 15 years, there is little evidence of voluntary action by the circus industry to prohibit these animals and the recent decision by the industry to import more elephants shows the need for legislation.

We believe that animals are kept in circuses purely for the purpose of entertaining the public rather than any more fundamental benefit. The animals are kept for most of the time in close confinement, often in abnormal social groups, exposed to forced movement, human handling, noise, vibration, cage motion and confinement. The types of behaviours that animals in circuses are trained to perform are completely unnatural (e.g. elephants trained to sit on a tub; tigers jumping through hoops).

Wild animals have not undergone the domestication process that animals such as dogs or horses have and so are not adapted to humans and the captive environment. Being used in travelling circuses is therefore likely to have a greater impact on wild animals.

The RSPCA would like politicians to commit to banning wild animals in travelling circuses.


Supporters briefing on wild animals in circuses

Animal Experiments

UK legislation on animal experiments will undergo changes in the near future as a result of the revision of European Directive 86/609 on the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes. The RSPCA believes it is extremely important that UK legislation is not weakened during this process and that the current level of control is maintained and improved.

The nature and level of suffering for animals in experiments is an issue of serious public concern - yet much of this animal use is carried out with public money and in the public's name. We therefore believe far more needs to be done to ensure that research on animals is only carried out as a last resort and if there really is no alternative way of obtaining essential scientific information. This needs to go hand in hand with increased efforts to reduce and avoid animal use and to develop and implement humane alternatives.

The RSPCA also wants to see an effective strategy to replace the use of primates in experiments, reducing suffering for all animals, and in particular to end procedures which cause 'substantial' suffering. Improving standards of housing and care for animals; better training for those using and caring for animals; and greater openness and transparency regarding animal use is also essential


Supporters briefing on animals in experiments

For more information on the RSPCA's main animal welfare issues that we want political parties to address visit the RSPCA Political Animal site.

More Articles by RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) ...

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