The Animal Welfare Act was launched on Wednesday 4 April by Defra Minister Barry Gardiner, the RSPCA and TV vet, David Grant, at the RSPCA's Harmsworth Memorial Animal Hospital, in north London, where the BBC series 'Animal Hospital' is filmed.

Speaking at the launch, Defra Minister, Barry Gardiner said:

"The Animal Welfare Act represents the most important achievement in animal welfare legislation for almost a century.

"For the first time ever, there will be legislation to stop the suffering of pet animals before it occurs. By allowing early intervention this Act works on the principle that prevention is better than cure.

"Persistent offenders will also be deterred by stronger penalties."

The Animal Welfare Act, which comes into force on 6th April, introduces a duty of care for pet owners to do all that is reasonable to ensure the welfare of their animals.

The five essential requirements that the owner of a pet will need to provide are:

-- A suitable environment (where it lives).
-- A suitable diet (what it eats and drinks).
-- To be able to behave normally.
-- To be housed with or apart from other animals, (whatever is best for that particular animal).
-- To be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

The Act represents the first time that a welfare requirement is being introduced for non-farmed animals and raises the age limit at which a child can buy a pet, or win one as a prize, to 16 years-old.

Offenders can be banned from owning animals; fined up to £20,000; and/or sent to prison for a maximum of 51 weeks. It remains an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, or to organise an animal fight, but the law relating to these offences has been revised so that it is geared to tackle the types of crimes that occur in the 21st century.

The Government intends to make more specific laws, under secondary Legislation, for particular kinds of activities relating to animals where it is felt that more detailed regulations are necessary; such as the welfare of racing greyhounds and wild animals in traveling circuses.

-- The Animal Welfare Act came into force in Wales on 27 March. The Welsh Assembly has the powers to make its own secondary legislation under the Act.

-- The Animal Welfare Act received Royal Assent on 8 November 2006 and comes into force on Good Friday, 6 April 2007.


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