I would like to start by assuring you that I care very much about the welfare of all animals. I am pleased to tell you that my Ministerial colleagues are examining the evidence around the use of cages for farm animals and are considering the options. They have also committed to continuing to focus on maintaining world-leading farm animal welfare standards through both regulatory requirements and statutory codes.
Ministers have been clear that it is their ambition for farrowing crates to no longer be used for sows. Indeed, the new pig welfare code clearly states that “the aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary and for any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets.” It is important that we make progress towards a system that both works commercially and safeguards the welfare of the sow and her piglets, and that we do so as quickly as possible. I am pleased to confirm the UK is already ahead of most pig producing countries in terms of non-confinement farrowing, with around 40 per cent of our pigs housed outside and not farrowed with crates.
I recognise that the ‘enriched’ colony cage system restricts a bird’s ability to exhibit normal behaviours, so I am pleased that the Government is also examining the future use of cages for all laying hens. I also welcome the commitment from our major retailers, with positive support from our egg producers, to stop retailing eggs from enriched colony cage production systems by 2025. I know that the UK already has a much larger free-range sector by far than any EU country, with over 55 per cent of our hens kept in free range systems.
I am encouraged that this Government has set itself a challenging agenda to tackle animal welfare issues and is taking action on many fronts to improve the health and wellbeing of farm animals. A major example is the commitment to end excessively long journeys for live animals going for slaughter and for fattening, which will be realised through the Kept Animals Bill now making its way through Parliament. Now we have left the EU, Ministers are also able to reward farmers for providing higher standards of animal welfare and environmental protection measures. I am pleased that Ministers have committed to co-designing an Animal Health and Welfare Pathway under this plan, which aims to promote the production of healthier, higher-welfare farm animals at a level beyond compliance with current regulations. The direction of the Pathway so far has been developed in active partnership with industry.
Of course, if you do have specific concerns about the welfare of an animal, I would recommend reporting it to the police or to the RSPCA who can investigate and take action where necessary.