Ulster Unionist MLA, Robin Swann, has called upon the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to give assurances that new powers of entry and seizure of livestock will only be used by officials in exceptional cases.
The North Antrim representative and former chairman of the Rural Youth Europe organisation said;
“The Ulster Unionist Party played an active role in developing the Welfare of Animal Act 2011, and within it there were two new important provisions added. Firstly there are new powers of seizure for DARD Inspectors; under the previous Welfare of Animals Act 1972, these powers only extended to the Police Service. Secondly, where an inspector identifies a farmed animal that they suspect is likely to suffer, the Inspector can now act there and then. Under the 1972 Act, an inspector could not act until an animal had actually suffered.
Whilst these changes should be welcomed, it also means that there will be much greater responsibility placed in the hands of the DARD inspectors. Therefore I strongly believe that the inspectors should be trained to a veterinary standard whilst simultaneously being fully up to speed on all animal welfare legislation.
Given that shortly DARD Inspectors will have seizure powers for the first time, the Department must ensure that these powers are used only in exceptional cases. This week during the Agriculture Committee meeting at Stormont I put the point to the Department that the seizure of animals must only be a last resort.
The vast majority of farmers across Northern Ireland do live up to their obligations on animal husbandry and treat their livestock with compassion. Unfortunately in a small number of cases animal welfare falls below what must be expected. I did however make the point to officials this week that farm animals falling into poor condition wasn’t always down to a complete disregard on the owner’s part. Sometimes farmers through no fault of their own, such as poor physical or mental health, can neglect the care of their livestock. The Department must for example recognise that officials entering a farm and removing animals has the potential to exacerbate the situation if the farmer is experiencing mental health difficulties.
Therefore I strongly believe that the seizure of animals must only be considered on a case by case basis. The medical and financial circumstances of each farmer should be considered before any decision of removal is granted.”
Ulster Unionist Party Agriculture Spokesperson, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA added “If these new regulations are to come into operation on 2 April as anticipated, they will shortly have to be put to the Assembly seeking affirmative resolution. However until assurances of a flexible and considered approach are given, the UUP will have serious reservations about giving our approval to new regulations which could have a significant effect on farmers.”