Animal welfare - Scottish Government activity: Scottish Animal Welfare Commission review

Review of Scottish Government activity affecting the welfare of animals, as sentient beings, by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC).

4. Scottish Government - Policies and strategies

Natural environment

In December 2022 the Scottish Government met its commitment to publish a new Biodiversity Strategy, setting out its ambition for Scotland to be Nature Positive by 2030, and to have restored and regenerated biodiversity across the country by 2045. The Strategy represents the first element in Scotland’s Biodiversity Delivery Framework and is due to be followed by a Natural Environment Bill (a 2021-2022 Programme commitment) providing for statutory targets for nature restoration on land and sea, and a framework for setting, monitoring, enforcing and reporting on those targets. It includes a number of actions that have animal welfare implications and are therefore relevant to the SAWC remit, including a continued drive to reduce deer population densities, ongoing control and removal of invasive non-native species (INNS) and ensuring that grouse moor management sustains healthy biodiversity.

The Natural Environment Bill is due to be introduced in 2024.


The 2022-2023 Programme included a commitment to developing a Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture, with enhanced emphasis on environment and community benefit, continuing to progress the regulatory review of aquaculture and providing measures to tackle associated environmental impacts, including implementation by SEPA of a new sea lice risk assessment framework. This spatially-based risk assessment framework aims to regulate the interaction between sea lice from marine finfish farms and wild Atlantic salmon by establishing a network of wild salmon protection zones in migration bottlenecks in coastal waters on the West Coast and Western Isles, such as sea lochs and sounds. The framework will be implemented in phases from the end of 2023, after which all proposals for new finfish farms, or increases in fish numbers at existing farms that could affect protection zones, will be subject to risk assessment and appropriate permit conditions.

The Scottish Government has also given directions to SEPA regarding the application of a new Environmental Quality Standard (EQS) for emamectin benzoate (EmBz), which is widely used in the marine finfish industry to control sea lice. The new EQS sets reduced EmBz discharge limits for marine finfish farms. A consultation on the timescale for implementation ran from 24 April to 24 July 2023.

The Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture was published on 21 July 2023. Improving aquaculture health and welfare is included as one of the strategic outcomes, described as “an ethical responsibility and a priority”.

The Health and Welfare section includes the aims of:

  • improving health and welfare, and reducing cumulative mortalities over the finfish production cycle to the lowest possible levels
  • continuing research into the use of cleanerfishes in aquaculture and developing a Code of Good Practice (CoGP) to support improved cleanerfish health, welfare and performance
  • increasing adoption of new and innovative technologies, which achieve both positive environmental and health and welfare outcomes, including exploring the potential use of semi-closed and fully-closed containment systems
  • understanding pathogen pathways and appropriate pest management options for seaweed farming.

Aquaculture is identified in the Vision as having a crucial role to play in meeting the commitment to becoming a Good Food Nation, although in this context emphasis is placed on food production and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, rather than animal welfare. Promoting Scottish aquaculture products, to increase domestic consumption, is identified as a community aim in support of Scotland’s ambition to become a Good Food Nation.

SAWC supports the aim of improving fish health and welfare, and reducing mortalities. The SAWC aquaculture working group is currently preparing a report on the welfare of cleaner fishes.

Scottish Veterinary Service

The 2021-2022 Programme proposed to create a new dedicated Scottish Veterinary Service and in February 2022 the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs confirmed that the field animal health and welfare functions currently delivered by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in Scotland would be replaced by a new Scottish Veterinary Service (SVS) within the lifetime of the current Parliament.

A Programme Board, representing organisations involved in the delivery and enforcement of animal health and welfare and food safety, was given responsibility for assessing the proposed functions of the SVS and what format these may take.

SAWC has supported the Scottish Government’s aim of introducing efficiencies, better resilience, and strengthened delivery and enforcement across a range of animal health and welfare tasks. We are not aware of progress towards developing the proposed SVS since our last review.

Good Food Nation Plans

The passage of the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022 met a longstanding Scottish Government commitment, with the original consultation on a bill carried out in 2018. Section 1 of the Act requires Scottish Ministers and certain public authorities to produce Good Food Nation plans, setting out the main outcomes to be achieved, indicators for assessing progress, and the policies to be followed in pursuance of those outcomes. In determining the content of the national Good Food Nation plan, Scottish Ministers must have regard to the scope for food-related issues to affect outcomes in a number of social, environmental and community areas including animal welfare.

The Act also provides for the creation of an independent Scottish Food Commission, to provide oversight of the progress of the Good Food Nation measures. Last year, SAWC welcomed both the addition of principles that include animal welfare and the creation of the new Commission, and hoped to collaborate with the Commission as required on animal welfare issues and policy.

SAWC does not have information about progress towards integrating animal welfare into wider food policy. We are aware that Scotland’s first Public Procurement Strategy: 2023 to 2028, published in April 2023, includes animal welfare as part of its Food Security objective. This strategy is intended to provide “a future high-level vision and roadmap for Scottish public procurement which all public sector bodies can align to and deliver against”. SAWC would like to see the opportunity taken through this process to educate both organisational purchasers and individual consumers on the role of animal welfare in food quality.



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