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Animal welfare on farm - Trading Standards visits and actions by local authorities

View profile for Katie Temple
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Animal welfare is high on the political agenda, with Trading Standards (a department in your local council, usually the borough or district council) being prompt and thorough to investigate reports of animal welfare breaches. Trading Standards is responsible for enforcing legislation governing the health and welfare of farm animals. Your farm may be inspected by Trading Standards to check that you are complying with legislation or to follow up on complaints received regarding any non-compliances. In this blog, our Regulatory Team discusses what to expect from a visit from Trading Standards and the action that may be taken if animal welfare breaches are discovered.

What should I do if Trading Standards visits my farm?

It is often the case that you will receive a visit from Trading Standards if a member of the public has made a complaint. If the complaint is alleging unnecessary suffering, the visit will take place promptly, usually within 24 hours of the complaint being made. The visit will usually be unannounced, meaning that a Trading Standards Officer (‘TSO’) will turn up without any warning at your farm and request to see the animal(s). They may be accompanied by a vet in order to carry out an assessment. Under animal welfare legislation, TSOs have power of entry and may inspect your farm even if you are not there. Refusal of entry could be viewed as obstructing an officer, which is a criminal offence.

During the visit, the TSO will inspect the animals, the animals’ accommodation, such as the buildings and fields in which they are being kept, and livestock transport. The TSO will also check items including movement records and veterinary and medicine books.

If you are at the farm at the time of the visit, it is important that you accompany the TSO on their inspection. When the TSO arrives, you should also contact your veterinary surgery and ask a vet to attend the farm and accompany you and the TSO. If no one is available, get a vet to attend the farm as soon as possible after the visit. This will serve as contemporaneous evidence of the state of the animals at the time of the visit. During the visit, it is also useful to take photographs and videos – again, this will serve as contemporaneous evidence of the condition of the animals and their accommodation. Keep all documents that are given to you by the TSO during the visit, and if the TSO requests documents, make copies of these before handing them over. Once the TSO has left, write down everything you can remember from the visit, including everything the TSO said and anything they seemed to linger over or seemed particularly interested in. Sign and date your note and keep it somewhere safe.

What could happen after a Trading Standards visit?

Following the visit, you will be sent a letter to confirm the findings of the inspection. Sometimes, this will be a more detailed repeat of what the TSO has handwritten in any notes they hand you. Other times, the letter will include points which are completely unexpected. Where necessary, enforcement action will be taken. The local authority has a range of enforcement options available depending on the severity of the animal welfare issue(s) being alleged. In circumstances where the issue is not so serious, Trading Standards will issue a statutory notice detailing the steps that you (as the owner) must take to improve the welfare of your animals. In more serious cases, however, the local authority has the power to seize the animals, initiate prosecution, or even both.

Under Section 18(5) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, a TSO may take an animal into possession if a vet certifies that it is suffering or likely to suffer in the circumstances. If this happens, it is likely that the local authority will then apply for a Court Order to transfer the legal ownership of your animals to them (Section 20 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006).

If you are facing a criminal allegation, you will receive an invitation to attend an interview under caution. The information that you provide, in addition to any other evidence gathered during the investigation, such as evidence obtained during the visit by the TSO, will be used by the local authority to decide whether to prosecute. Interviews under caution are dealt with on a voluntary basis (unless the police have become involved) and may be carried out in person or by way of written statement.

If the local authority decides to prosecute and the prosecution is successful, this may have a range of consequences, including the loss of your animals, a ban on having animals in your possession, a fine, and even a prison sentence.

Our Regulatory team can provide clear advice if you are facing enforcement action as a result of an alleged animal welfare breach. We can help with challenging actions taken by regulatory bodies. This could take the form of representing and advising you during Section 20 proceedings, assisting with the preparation of a response to an interview under caution, or representing and advising you during prosecution in the court. For more information on what to do if you receive a request for an interview under caution or summons in a prosecution, please see our Food Regulatory Law FAQs here.