ARCHIVE: On-farm animal welfare

The welfare of all farmed animals is protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. The Act also contains a duty of care to animals – anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to make sure the animal’s welfare needs are met.

From the 30th June 2010, new rules for the keeping of meat chickens will come into force across all Member States.  New guidance on the new rules from June 2010 for meat chickens is available here.


The Animal Welfare Act 2006 contains the general laws relating to animal welfare. It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. The Act also contains a Duty of Care to animals – this means that anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to make sure the animal’s needs are met. This means that a person has to look after an animal’s welfare as well as ensure that it does not suffer.

The welfare of farmed animals is additionally protected by the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 (S.I. 2007 No.2078), which are made under the Animal Welfare Act. These Regulations replaced the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 (as amended) on 1st October 2007. The new Regulations ensure that farmed animal welfare legislation is aligned with the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act.

The vast majority of the new Regulations replicate the 2000 Regulations. They continue to implement EU directives on the welfare of calves, pigs, laying hens and a general welfare framework directive, which sets down minimum standards for the protection of all farmed livestock. They also remove any duplication that previously existed between the Animal Welfare Act and the existing 2000 Regulations. For example, the duty of care provision and the ability to issue improvement notices are not included in these Regulations as they are now provided for in the Act.

The most significant change from the 2000 Regulations, arising from the fact that the Animal Welfare Act covers all animals under the control of man, is that the Regulations will apply for the first time to livestock kept on common land.

The new Regulations cover all farmed animals. Schedule 1 (which does not apply to fish, reptiles or amphibians) contains specific requirements such as inspections, record keeping, freedom of movement, buildings and equipment and the feeding and watering of animals. Some species, however, are subject to additional provisions, which are set out in Schedules 2-9 and apply as follows:

  • Schedule 2 on laying hens kept in non-cage systems;
  • Schedule 3 on laying hens kept in conventional cages;
  • Schedule 4 on laying hens kept in enriched cages;
  • Schedule 5 on additional conditions for laying hens;
  • Schedule 6 on calves confined for rearing and fattening;
  • Schedule 7 on cattle;
  • Schedule 8 on pigs;
  • Schedule 9 on rabbits.

Guidance has been prepared to accompany the new Regulations and includes information on the application of the new legislation to common land.

Further copies of the Regulations can be obtained from the Stationery Office Publications Centre, PO Box 276, London SW8 5DT or by calling 0870 600 5522.

Similar legislation exists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For further information on animal welfare legislation in these areas please contact the Defra helpdesk and ask for the On-farm Animal Welfare Team on 08459 33 55 77.

European legislation

EU minimum welfare standards are already in place for:

  • animals kept for farming purposes (EU Directive 98/58/EC) i.e. the ‘general framework directive’;
  • laying hens (EU Directive 99/74/EC);
  • calves (EU Directive 91/629/EEC as amended by Directive 97/2/EC and Commission Decision 97/182/EC;
  • pigs (EU Directive 91/630/EEC as amended by Directive 2001/88/EC and Directive 2001/93/EC).

The Treaty of Amsterdam in June 1997 contains a legally binding Protocol recognising that animals are sentient beings and requires full regard to be paid to their welfare when policies relating to agriculture, transport, research and the internal market are formulated or implemented.

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe (CoE) has five Conventions covering animal welfare including one on the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes.

The underlying principle of the Convention, and its recommendations on the welfare of individual species of livestock, is to set out the conditions necessary to avoid any unnecessary suffering or injury and to take account of physiological and behavioural needs. Current CoE recommendations include pigs, cattle, sheep, domestic fowl, turkeys, goats, ratites (ostrich, emu and rhea), muscovy ducks, domestic ducks, domestic geese, fish, pheasants and fur animals. Development of new recommendations for rabbits are in hand. The UK is an active participant in the Standing Committee which draws up the welfare recommendations.


Codes of Recommendations ("Welfare Codes")

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 allows for Codes of Recommendations for the welfare of animals to be produced. The existing Codes of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock which were made under different primary legislation continue to apply under the new Animal Welfare Act.

Please note that the references to legislation in the species specific farm animal welfare codes are now out of date, because of the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007. The vast majority of the Welfare of Farmed Animal (England) Regulations 2000 references in the codes are replicated by the 2007 Regulations, for an accurate position of the law as it currently stands please contact the Defra helpdesk and ask for the On-farm Animal Welfare Team on 08459 33 55 77. The boxes containing legislation in the codes will be updated when individual codes are revised.

Welfare codes do not lay down statutory requirements. However, livestock farmers and employers are required by law to ensure that all those attending to their livestock are familiar with, and have access to, the relevant codes. Although the main aim of the welfare codes is to encourage farmers to adopt high standards of husbandry, they may also be used to back up legislative requirements. Where a person is charged with a welfare offence, failure to comply with the provisions of a welfare code may be relied on by the prosecution to establish guilt.


Enforcement of Welfare Legislation

Animal Health (formerly the State Veterinary Service) carries out welfare inspections on farms to check that legislation and the welfare codes are being followed. In addition to spot checks and planned visits, Animal Health follows up all complaints and allegations of poor welfare on specific farms as a matter of urgency. Where welfare problems are found, advice or warnings are usually sufficient to bring about satisfactory improvements. Follow-up visits are made to check on this. However, where necessary and where the evidence is available, Defra initiates prosecution action against farmers for welfare offences. We also co-operate closely with other organisations such as local authorities and the RSPCA. A protocol for handling enforcement of welfare cases in cooperation with members of the Hindu Community (60 KB) is available.

Welfare Advisory Programme

Defra has a contract with ADAS (an agricultural consultancy) to run an advisory programme for farmers to encourage good welfare. The advice is free of charge to farmers. Meetings and workshops are held around the country on topics of welfare concern. Subjects covered over the last few years include: handling and condition scoring of cattle; mastitis in dairy cattle; improving calf, lamb and piglet survival; sheep kept on arable farms; poultry heat stress and litter management; pig housing systems.

Further information

Page last modified: 26 November 2010