Game birds reared for sporting purposes are currently covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This Act makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, and also contains a duty of care so that people responsible for an animal must take such steps as are reasonable to ensure its welfare.
In addition, the Government are proposing to use powers under the Act to produce a code of practice, which will provide guidance on accommodation and management methods, including aggression reduction. Any code would be subject to public consultation and endorsement by Parliament.
In preparation for the introduction of a code, a Defra-commissioned study into the welfare implications of using bits and spectacles is currently underway and is expected to be completed in November 2008. The results of the research will then be subject to peer review and will inform members of the working group tasked with writing the code.
We are aware that there are also concerns about the use of cages for the breeding of game birds, and Defra has asked the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) to assess this system of management and report back on its findings. It is anticipated that the report will be ready by autumn 2008 and it will inform the working group about this type of breeding system, and the extent to which any identified problems can be addressed through a code of practice.