On 25 March 2022, the second reading of the Game Birds (Cage Breeding) Bill [HL] is scheduled to take place in the House of Lords. It is a private member’s bill sponsored by Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Conservative). In commentary provided to the Library, Lord Randall stated that the bill “is designed to create minimum welfare standards for the breeding and raising of gamebirds, which do not exist currently”.
Overview of the bill
Clause 1(1) of the bill would provide that a person who keeps any pheasant or partridge in a ‘raised laying cage’ or ‘battery cage’ for the purpose of producing eggs would be committing an offence. Such eggs are largely used for the raising of birds for game shooting. Under clause 1(2), a person who caused or permitted this would also be committing an offence. Clause 4 defines such cages as follows:
- “Battery cage” means any enclosed space intended for laying birds in a battery system.
- “Raised laying cage” means a laying cage raised above the ground.
Similarly, a battery system would mean “an arrangement of cages either beside or on top of each other, or both”.
Clause 2(2) would set minimum sizes for enclosures for pheasants and partridges when kept for producing eggs. Such enclosures would have to provide a minimum of two square metres of floor space per bird. This would apply “including but not limited to after the laying period”. Under clause 2(1) a person responsible for an animal to which the section applied would commit an offence if the animal were kept “otherwise than in accordance with this section”.
Clause 3 sets out the bill’s provisions on penalties:
A person guilty of an offence under this act shall be liable on summary conviction to—
(a) imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, or
(b) a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.
The bill would extend to England and Wales and come into force at the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which it was passed.
On 2 March 2022, the Government answered a parliamentary question asking what assessment it had made “of the potential merits of bringing forward legislative proposals to ban the use of cages in the breeding of game birds”. Answering, Jo Churchill, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that the Government shared “the public’s high regard for animal welfare” and it was delivering “a series of ambitious reforms, as outlined in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare”. The Action Plan for Animal Welfare was published on 12 May 2021. It sets out the Government’s plans, aims and ambitions for animal welfare. Jo Churchill also stated that the Government was looking at options for improving animal welfare in farming in different areas, such as the use of cages for gamebirds:
We are actively exploring options for improving the welfare of farmed animals and are considering the case for introducing further reforms, in areas such as the use of cages for gamebirds.
Jo Churchill said that the Government needed to look further at the issue but was expecting to issue a call for evidence later this year:
We need to gather evidence on the welfare of gamebirds and the use of cages in the sector to inform future policy development. The expectation is that we will be calling for evidence later this year.
In June 2021, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was asked what steps it was taking to “ban cages for breeding (a) partridges, (b) pheasants and (c) other game birds”. Responding, Victoria Prentice, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that the Government wanted to remain a world leader in animal welfare and this included looking at the use of cages in farming for the breeding and rearing of gamebirds. She also referenced the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes, which provides game farmers with information on how to meet the welfare needs of animals as required by the Animal Welfare Act 2006:
We are committed to maintaining our position as world leaders in farm animal welfare and want to improve and build upon that record, working in partnership with farmers to support healthier, higher welfare animals. As referenced in the recently published Action Plan for Animal Welfare we are actively exploring options for strengthening the UK system moving forward and are examining the evidence around the use of cages in farming, including their use for breeding and rearing of gamebirds.
The welfare of gamebirds is protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. The Statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes offers additional protection and provides keepers with guidance on how to meet the welfare needs of their gamebirds as required by the 2006 Act. It recommends that barren cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used and that any system should be appropriately enriched.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) carry out targeted inspections on gamebird farms. Appropriate action is taken against anyone who breaks the law.
Statutory code of practice
The Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes was published in July 2010. It applies in England only (similar codes of practice exist for Wales and Scotland). The purpose of the code of practice is to:
[P]rovide practical guidance in relation to section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 affecting birds bred and reared under controlled conditions for the purpose of release for sport shooting, together with birds retained for breeding purposes.
The code of practice states that:
Failure to comply with a provision of this code shall not of itself render you liable to proceedings of any kind, but a failure to follow the code can be relied on as tending to establish liability for an offence and compliance can tend to negate such liability.
On barren raised cages and small barren cages, paragraphs 6.11 and 6.12 of the code of practice say:
Barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used. All laying systems used for the housing of birds should be designed and managed to ensure the welfare of the birds. Any system should be appropriately enriched.
Gamebird keepers should explore possible methods of enrichment with their veterinary surgeon or other suitable adviser. Laying birds should be provided with nest areas sufficient for the number of birds housed.
Barren cages lack enrichment. Enrichment could include elements such as scratch pads and perches.
Paragraphs 6.1 to 6.12 set out further information on housing and penning. For example, paragraph 6.1 states “when birds are housed or penned, the accommodation should be well constructed and managed and of sufficient size to ensure good health and welfare”. This includes protection from adverse weather, being of an appropriate size, having appropriate flooring and adequate lighting, heating and ventilation.
The impact assessment for the code of practice provides further information on the consultation process that Defra undertook and the options considered in the formulation of the code.
Cover image by Jack Seeds on Unsplash.