Enforcement of farmed animal welfare – DAERA policy and activity

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) follows established enforcement policy in relation to its enforcement of farmed animal welfare requirements.

The policy is available here.

In addition to the sanctions available under the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 (the 2011 Act), DAERA is also able to deploy a range of measures, short of prosecution, when a breach has been detected, in order to to secure compliance and protect animal health and welfare. This includes:

  • Warning letters;
  • Enforcement Notices (for example, detention or destruction notices);
  • Suspension/revocation of licences/approvals;
  • Imposition of restrictions or conditions;
  • Fixed Penalty Notices; and
  • Financial penalties.

DAERA pursues the enforcement action which is deemed to be proportionate based on the extent and severity of the breach that has taken place.

Any decision by DAERA to ultimately submit a prosecution file for consideration by the Public Prosecution Service is based on evidential tests and public interest factors as detailed in the enforcement policy.

Enforcement Activity

DAERA inspectors conduct a range of announced and unannounced inspections to verify compliance with the 2011 Act and the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.

DAERA routinely publishes information relating to the enforcement of animal welfare in an annual statistical bulletin. These bulletins can be accessed here.

During 2020, the last complete year for which statistics are available, DAERA undertook 1,003 production site inspections for compliance with animal welfare requirements. Compliance inspections occur either as a result of a risk-based analysis, or at randomly selected sites. The overall compliance rate was 93%.

In the same year, DAERA conducted 63 welfare inspections in response to complaints received, resulting in 25 breaches being detected. In the previous year, DAERA, carried out 74 welfare inspections in response to complaints received, and secured 5 convictions which resulted in fines, community service and bans being imposed on the keeping of animals. 

Regulation and Inspection of Livestock Markets

There are 29 approved cattle markets, 27 approved sheep markets and 1 approved pig market. In addition to the 2011 Act, the welfare of animals at livestock auctions or livestock markets is protected by provisions contained in the following legislation:

  • The Welfare of Animals and Poultry at Markets Order (Northern Ireland) 1998;
  • The Welfare of Animals (Transport) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006; and
  • The Sales, Markets and Lairs Order (Northern Ireland) 1975

Market operators have specific responsibilities under the Sales, Markets and Lairs Order (Northern Ireland) 1975 to ensure the welfare of animals e.g. they must ensure unfit animals do not enter the market and, if they do, they must be cared for appropriately.

DAERA officials carry out inspections of cattle, sheep and pig markets on a risk basis. During these market inspections, DAERA officials examine the welfare of individual animals at the market, inspect the vehicles used to transport animals and inspect the market structure to ensure no injuries are caused to animals.

The total number of market inspections carried out in each of the years 2018, 2019 and 2020 (which represents the latest publically available data) is detailed below:

Year Cattle Markets Sheep Markets Pig Markets Total Total Animal Welfare Non-compliances
2018 148 97 1 246 15
2019 120 94 0 214 20
2020 51 41 0 92 10
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