The elephant in the room

This article appeared in a special edition of the House Magazine concerning Animal Welfare issues

The Animal Welfare Bill gives grounds for optimism, says Eric Martlew, particularly if it results in an outright ban on wild animals in circuses

According to the RSPCA, each year the world-wide fur industry kills more than 40 million animals. There were many successful campaigns against fur in the 1980s, and in 2000 the UK government banned the farming of animals for their fur. Despite these campaigns, I'm disappointed that yet again, fur is increasing in popularity in the fashion industry. While part of the battle is persuading the public not to buy or wear fur products, there is also much we can do as politicians.

One action we could take is to push for an outright ban on the import of fur from specific species. The two areas to focus on in this respect are dog and cat skins and seal fur. Since the US banned the trade in cat and dog fur in 2000, the European market has expanded.

The European Commission says each member state must decide how to tackle the fur issue. I would like to see the UK government do more than just label such goods, and opt instead to ban the import of cat and dog fur products as well as seal skins.

Since 2000, fur farming has been banned in the UK, but 85 per cent of the world's fur still comes from fur farms elsewhere. There is a huge number of different types of animals affected by fur-farming including mink, rabbit, lamb, muskrat, fox, marmots and chinchillas, and high welfare standards are difficult to meet in fur farms.

The issue of the fur trade is one of the biggest in animal welfare today, and has a global political dimension. The main issue for politicians to address is the importation of fur from specific species.

However, while the debate over the fur trade is very important internationally, the biggest UK animal welfare issue of the moment is the Animal Welfare Bill - the first major overhaul of captive and domestic animal legislation for nearly 100 years.

The bill was introduced to Parliament in October this year and I will be following its progress closely. I chair the all-party group (APG) for animal welfare, and I hope that the group can provide a focal point for providing information and clarifying issues as the bill progresses.

The key feature of the Animal Welfare Bill is the introduction of the welfare offence, which will allow enforcement agencies to intervene at an earlier stage before an animal suffers unnecessarily. The bill will also result in a round of secondary legislation which will provide unique and unprecedented opportunities to tackle the most important animal welfare issues of the day. These issues include animals in circuses, regulation of animal sanctuaries and the pet trade for exotic animals.

In my view, one of the most important of these is the possibility of securing an outright ban on wild animals in circuses. There are still at least three circuses that continue to use animals such as lions, tigers and bears, and Bobby Roberts' Circus still travels with an elderly Asian elephant. I would like to see an amendment to the bill which gives an outright ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.

The Animal Welfare Bill does not deal with issues relating to the welfare of wild animals or the welfare of animals used for research testing. There are also many animal welfare issues that are covered by European legislation. All of these issues present important areas that shouldn't be neglected by politicians. They include:

At the APG for animal welfare, we have associate members who campaign on all of these issues and represent a broad range of views on them. If you would like further information about any of these issues, we at the group would be happy to put you in touch with some relevant animal welfare organisations.

So, to sum up, this is an exciting time for animal welfare and the progress of the Animal Welfare Bill is the most significant animal welfare issue facing politics today. However, there are also many other important issues, including the debate over the fur trade, and we must maintain our vigilance as politicians to ensure that we protect animals of all kinds in the UK and around the world.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB