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Parliamentary Questions shed light on welfare of animals at killing and transport regulations

By answering a series of questions in parliament, the UK government has provided some clarity on the rules for killing and transporting decapod crustaceans – but there are still some issues which need to be addressed.

More than a year after the government accepted the evidence of decapod crustacean sentience and added them into the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act, we continue to campaign for welfare improvements. At Crustacean Compassion, we’re always looking at different areas of law affecting them and always using a range of advocacy tools at our disposal to make progress.

Key areas of focus for us have been the welfare of animals during transportation and welfare at the end of their life. These are covered by separate regulations in each of the four home nations, both of which were originally passed into law at a European Level.

Welfare at the time of killing regulations

We have always known that The Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2015 (known as WATOK) covers decapods, because the wording of the regulations has a specific section which applies to all animals. This is also true for the regulations in Wales and Northern Ireland too. This section applies to all animals “bred or kept for the production of meat, skin or other products.” As decapods are not usually bred for these purposes in the UK, it hinged on the interpretation of the word “kept.” As there is no definition in the law, it would be open to interpretation, perhaps an animal must be kept for several days, or weeks, or even their entire life.

There has also been a lack of clarity as to when these regulations apply to decapods. Our most recent effort to seek clarification was a raft of Parliamentary Questions tabled by the Labour MP and Shadow Minister on the DEFRA team, Ruth Jones, which were answered before Christmas.

The response from the DEFRA Minister, Mark Spencer MP was that an animal can be considered “kept” in accordance with these regulations “as soon as they are in control of a person.” The regulations go on to state that no animal may be killed in a way which causes unnecessary suffering or distress and anyone killing an animal must be trained. This would appear to rule out methods of killing like boiling alive and splitting. We will be seeking formal clarification from the Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations as to their understanding.

In response to a separate question Mr Spencer said that the government is looking at a “number of improvements that could be made to legislation and practice on welfare at killing”. This is something we will be following up with DEFRA and colleagues in the Better Deal for Animals Coalition.

Tackling the posting of live crustaceans

The situation around transport is clearer. The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006 states that it is an offence to transport any animal in a way “which causes, or is likely to cause, injury or unnecessary suffering to that animal.”

The same wording appears in the regulations in Wales and Northern Ireland, but regulations in Scotland do not cover decapods, something which we have discussed with the Scottish government last year. These discussions continue as we seek to find a way forward to ensure decapods can be protected to the same high standard across the United Kingdom.

As often happens in Parliament, MPs who may have either seen the original questions, or who have been contacted by you during the campaign so far, have then tabled their own questions to try and get more information from the government.

The first such questions came from Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon, who asked about discussions between the Welsh and Westminster governments, as well as about the adequacy of the current regulations to protect decapod welfare. The response from Mark Spencer MP revealed that there have been no discussions between the two governments – but Crustacean Compassion is talking to Members of the Welsh Senedd this week and hopes to meet the Welsh Government Minister in Cardiff soon.

Questions from Julian Sturdy (Conservative) and Clare Hanna (Social Democratic and Labour Party) received answers which appear slightly contradictory. When Mr Spencer responded to Sturdy he said that government was working “constructively with industry and stakeholders” following the passage of the Sentience Act. We look forward to both continuing these discussions with the government and exploring other options for bringing legislative change. Responding to Hanna on the possibility of a ban on the sale of live decapods to be sent through the post, Mark Spencer said there were “currently no plans” to do this.

All MPs who asked about the ability of current regulations to protect animal welfare were given the same response, with Spencer reiterated that animals must be “transported in receptacles or means of transport under conditions (in particular with regard to space, ventilation, temperature and security) and with such supply of liquid and oxygen, as are appropriate for the species concerned.”

It is hard to see how this can be reconciled with the companies like Amazon selling live lobsters and crabs to be sent through the post. With delivery drivers sometimes not knowing they are carrying live animals, and issues around storage is customers are out (and then once the animal is in the home).

Mark Spencer conceded in response to a question from Ian Byrne (Labour) that the government has no idea of the number of decapods being purchased online and sent live through the post, and there have been no discussions with retailers.

That’s why we’re pushing MPs to support our call for Amazon to stop these cruel sales.

Establishing when the legislation applies is only the first step however. For it to be worthwhile it must be back by robust enforcement – something which has been lacking in these regulations so far. Crustacean Compassion is continuing to work towards a systematic approach to legal protections for decapod crustaceans – backed by dependable and accountable enforcement.


Useful links to legislation


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