Plans to change animal welfare codes abandoned by government
The government has abandoned a controversial plan to repeal animal welfare codes.
The plan would have put standards into the hands of the livestock industry.
Animal welfare groups - including the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming - were concerned this could lead to a lowering of welfare standards. But others said the rules needed to be changed to reflect advances in science.
The government said it had reconsidered the move "in light of views raised".
It said the current statutory system would stay in place, but that it would "continue to work with industry" to improve the animal welfare code system.
The current animal welfare code on farming chickens for meat and breeding was due to be revoked on 27 April, to be replaced at the same time by new "industry-led" guidelines drawn up by the British Poultry Council (BPC).
The BPC would have been charged with enforcing these guidelines.
The government had intended to reform other areas of livestock including cattle, sheep and pigs, in the same way.
BPC chairman John Reed said: "We're disappointed by the change of policy at Defra. What this means now is that we, along with other livestock sectors, will be left with outdated welfare guidance."
The BPC was unaware of the new developments until shortly before the announcement was made by Defra.
Mr Reed added: "We supported the move towards jointly-owned guidance and we have contributed a significant amount of resource to this piece of work and are frustrated that it has been repealed before we were able to publish the content.
"By revoking its decision, Defra is walking away from an opportunity to ensure welfare guidance is kept up to date with the latest research using industry expertise."
A Defra spokeswoman said: "We have the highest standards of animal welfare in the world and no changes have been proposed to the legislation upholding them.
"We want to draw more closely on the expertise of the farming industry to ensure our welfare codes reflect the very latest scientific and veterinary developments.
"In light of views raised, we have given the matter further consideration and believe we can achieve this objective by retaining the existing statutory codes."
Reacting to Defra's decision Peter Stephenson, from Compassion in World Farming, said: "I am delighted, surprised and very, very pleased that the government has recognised the amount of damage that this would do."
Andrew Tyler, director of campaign group Animal Aid, said: "We are pleased to hear that sustained pressure has compelled Defra to reverse its decision and retain the statutory element of the codes. That means court cases stand a better chance of succeeding."
The RSPCA also welcomed the move, saying it had been concerned guidance documents might not contain the same level of welfare information as the existing codes.
A spokesman said: "It is vitally important that the codes of recommendations for farm animals and pets in England remain statutory and developed under appropriate governmental oversight, and so we are very pleased with the government's decision."
Meanwhile, Sean Wensley, the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) said his organisation had not "opposed the concept of moving to non-statutory codes", which he said were "in urgent need of updating" to reflect the latest animal welfare science.
"However, we have questioned the way in which the consultation has taken place and raised concerns that public confidence could be undermined by a process that wasn't sufficiently transparent," he added.