A BAN on caged hens and new limits to poultry transport times will be considered under legislation that is set to be proposed in mid-May.
The government has launched its post-Brexit action plan for animal welfare that could see sweeping reforms to poultry farming brought in this year.
Animals will be recognised as sentient beings in new laws to be introduced in May.
The government has also said it will consider subsidy payments for poultry kept in systems considered to be higher welfare under the new regime.
In a significant announcement of its post-Brexit ambitions, Defra said it would ban the export of live animals for fattening or slaughter.
Transport and colony cages
It also said it would consider legislation surrounding welfare in transport and the future of hens kept in colony cages.
The NFU has expressed concern over imports of produce reared to a lower standard and suggested the pig and poultry sectors had been ‘singled out’.
Its president Minette Batters said: “I have serious concerns about the government’s intention to raise the bar at home, without any certainty that the same standards will be applied to imports.
“There are still many practices allowed in countries we are currently negotiating with that are banned here, on welfare grounds.
“For example, it is not uncommon to see journey times for live animals in Australia exceed 24 hours without access to feed or water.
“In comparison, the government has recently consulted on reducing domestic journey times in the UK to eight hours.
Poultry and pigs
“It’s also important to recognise that two sectors the government has singled out, poultry and pigs, have some of the highest engagement levels in farm assurances schemes, meaning they are managed and audited against robust animal welfare standards.
“If the government is to raise the welfare bar here, it must do so for food imports.
“It would simply be hypocritical to do otherwise.
“We cannot have a situation where British farmers adhere to some of the highest standards in the world, only to be undercut by imports that barely meet the lowest rung on the ladder,” she said.
Announcing the plan, Defra secretary George Eustice said: “We are a nation of animal lovers and were the first country in the world to pass animal welfare laws.
“As an independent nation, we are now able to go further than ever to build on our excellent track record.”