Isabel Sigmac specialises in technology project delivery. She recently founded Help Street Cats and Dogs, a registered charity in England, rescuing and transforming the lives of street animals. She contested Birmingham Ladywood in the 2015 general election.
More than ever before, animal welfare is an increasing concern for the general public. There is certainly a renewed focus since Michael Gove has become the Environment Secretary. Recently, the Conservatives have made a string of announcements that has helped create awareness, and put animal welfare and the environment firmly back on government’s agenda. The genuine determination within the Conservative Party to improve animal welfare is certainly welcome.
Having founded a charity called Help Street Cats and Dogs, I dedicate a significant amount of my time these days to creating awareness on animal welfare related issues. Help Street Cats and Dogs is about rescuing and transforming the lives of street cats and dogs around the world by feeding, treating and re-homing.
Of course, I have my own rescues including a cat, two goats (a brother and sister of Saanen/Boer mix for the goat enthusiasts) and 27 Shetland sheep, soon to be over 50 after the lambing season. Just to clarify, the goats and sheep are not for the food chain. As a vegan, I cannot bear the thought of animals being killed for food, and won’t be breeding them either. How the sheep came to my ownership is a long story, but I’ve saved them from the slaughterhouse. I was lucky enough to be able to do this with the permission of a local landowner, allowing me to keep my four-legged family there.
Around 70 billion animals are farmed for meat, milk and eggs worldwide each year (2.3 billion in the EU), with about 25,000 animals are being slaughtered every single minute. They can be kept in horrific conditions with little or no regard for their welfare. As a result of increasing support for mandatory CCTV within all slaughterhouses, the legislation that made this possible and safeguard animal welfare was laid by Michael Gove during February this year. It will come into effect from May, when it will pass through Parliament, and businesses will then have six months to comply. This was a manifesto commitment and is a really positive step, reassuring consumers that welfare standards are being enforced by providing access to this footage.
Having said that, we need to also be mindful that there are other slaughter practices of different religions and cultures still tolerated within this country. The two that are relevant are the halal and kosher methods practiced by Muslims and Jews respectively. The Defra website does contain guidelines on how to legally carry out a religious slaughter, but I believe that bleeding animals to death is barbaric and not right for any reason. Measures should be to taken to end this practice within the UK.
The EU regulation on the welfare of animals in transport states that animals must be transported in a way that won’t cause them injury or unnecessary suffering. Whilst many farmers and business do their best to comply with the regulations, the long-distance transportation can cause immense suffering. This is especially true for the animals exported from Europe to countries outside the EU. They are often kept in overcrowded conditions, cannot lay down, have insufficient headroom and can be trampled to death. With transportation lasting days, perhaps in extreme weather conditions, the animals can be left dehydrated and exhausted, with little or no sufficient water or rest along the journey.
There are a number of campaigns on this front against the live animal exports for slaughter on welfare grounds. Last year’s Conservative Manifesto said that the UK could take early steps to control the export of live animals when it leaves the EU. There is a Private Members Bill in the current session aimed at a live export ban (with an exemption for the Northern Ireland border) as soon as the UK leaves. I strongly oppose the export of live animals, because it is inhumane and causes unimaginable suffering and sometimes a painful death.
The Environment Secretary has indicated he is looking very seriously at banning the trade, and I very much hope that is the case. We shouldn’t wait until a ban is in place to take action. In the meantime, the journey and rest times, and animal stock densities along with fitness for transportation, must be addressed at the earliest opportunity.
There are so many other animal welfare related issues that need to be addressed. I have only touched on couple of areas – the practice of slaughter and live animal export. Other examples include the fur trade, animal cruelty and fighting, puppy mills, factory farming, animal testing and the increasing threats to our wildlife.
Animals are sentient beings who do feel pain, pleasure and suffering. I very much hope to see the Conservatives continue in their efforts to make animal welfare a priority.