In the guide

If you keep livestock, the law covers the health and well-being of your animals, as well as animal feeding stuffs

Animal health controls protect you, your animals, the consumer and the livestock industry. The law sets out responsibilities for transport, disease, welfare, animal by-products and disposal of fallen stock, for example.

These rules apply whether you keep the animals for pleasure or for profit.

There are strict laws on animal feed too, which mostly apply to farmed livestock. However, horses, pets, farmed fish, zoo and circus animals - as well as animals living in the wild - are also covered.

Animal health

The law helps prevent and trace the spread of disease by regulating the registration, identification and control on the movements of livestock. These rules apply to everyone that plays a role in animal health - this includes animal keepers, hauliers, market operators and abattoirs.

In addition to the above legislation, there are controls on fallen stock, veterinary medicines and the slaughter of livestock.

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Animal welfare

General rules make owners and keepers responsible for the welfare needs of all their animals. Detailed legislation and codes of practice exist to protect animal welfare on farms, in transit, at markets and at slaughter. These include the need:

  • for a suitable environment (place to live)
  • for a suitable diet
  • to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • to be housed with, or apart from, other animals (if applicable)
  • to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease
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Animal feed

Controls on animal feed protect human and animal health, and set out rules for traceability and documented controls within the feed chain. Other legal requirements that cover animal feed - for example, labelling - are designed to help buyers make informed choices.

The rules on animal feed include:

  • feed hygiene
  • feed composition
  • measures relating to feed safety 
  • GM-derived ingredients
  • imports and exports and associated official controls

Legal responsibilities apply across a range of animal species and types - from farmed animals and pets to those living freely in the wild. If you use, manufacture or sell animal feed, you must be registered or approved, and must comply with standards that cover facilities, storage, personnel and record-keeping.

In addition to these legal requirements, codes of practice and assurance scheme standards may also apply to you, depending upon your activity and industry sector.

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Authorities & enforcement

Responsibility for animal health and welfare lies with Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and its equivalent agencies in Scotland and Wales. You can change your location at the top of the page if you want to search for guidance for a different area.

Enforcement of animal health and welfare legislation is split between these Defra agencies and local authorities, normally trading standards services. In practice, day-to-day responsibility for official controls is split between central and local government.

At local level the monitoring and enforcement of feed law is carried out by local authorities, usually trading standards services, and Defra agencies.

For more detailed information please see the In-depth Guides below. Once you've finished, make sure you look at the full range of Quick Guides to see whether there are any other areas of law that affect your business.

Before you start
Make sure you choose your location using the drop-down list at the top of the page. The In-depth Guides provide country-specific information as some laws are different in England, Scotland and Wales, and some are enforced differently
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In-depth guidance

This is a general guide and you may well need to know more; take a look below where we've listed our In-depth Guides on specific topics related to animals and agriculture

Agriculture and animal feed

Imported feed & food controls

Understand what is required of you if import feed or food from outside the UK

Feed hygiene for farmers & growers

The hygiene of feed production, handling, storage and record keeping are critical to the safety and traceability of feeding stuffs

Feed hygiene for transporters & hauliers

Understand what is required of you if you transport animal feeding stuffs

Manufacturing your own pet foods

Recognise the legal implications of making pet foods at home, including the need for registration / approval

Mixing feed on-farm

There are different requirements for the mixing of feeding stuffs on-farm, depending on the use of additives or premixtures

The retail sale of pet food

The law requires any pet food that you sell to be labelled with certain information

Animal diseases and records

African horse sickness

If you keep horses, donkeys or mules you will want to be aware of this fatal disease

Anthrax

Understand more about anthrax and the implications of an outbreak for animals and humans

Avian influenza (bird flu)

Understand more about avian influenza and the possible implications of an outbreak

Bovine tuberculosis

There are measures in place to reduce the risk of bovine tuberculosis, and the pre and post-movement testing of cattle as methods to prevent its spread

BSE testing of cattle

Understand more about how BSE is controlled in the UK via testing of slaughtered and fallen cattle that meet certain criteria

Classical swine fever

Learn about classical swine fever and how the risk of an outbreak can be reduced

Contingency planning for livestock diseases

The importance of contingency planning in minimising the impact of a livestock disease outbreak

Foot-and-mouth disease

The impact of foot-and-mouth disease, and how an outbreak can be prevented

Rabies

Understand the implications of rabies and the controls that are in place to prevent an outbreak in the UK

Schmallenberg virus

Find out more about this disease and the impact that it can have on livestock

Sheep scab

Sheep infected with sheep scab are required to be treated, and their movements are controlled by the local authority

Identification and general ownership including pets

Cattle that have been refused passports

If you keep cattle you need to know about tagging and passports and what to do if a passport is refused

Goats: identification, records & movement

Rules concerning the identification of goats and the need to maintain records of their movements

Horse passports

If you own a horse you need know about passports and why they are required

Keeping veterinary medicine records

A record of all veterinary medicines that have been used to treat food-producing animals must be retained

Registration & records of poultry

If you keep poultry or racing pigeons there are certain registration and record-keeping requirements

Requirements for cattle identification

Understand the requirements for herd registration, tagging, passports and record-keeping for all keepers of cattle

Responsible animal / pet ownership

Essential welfare information for individuals that keep animals, including pets and livestock

Sheep: identification, records & movement

Rules concerning the identification of sheep and the need to maintain records of their movements

Keeping and transport of livestock

Cleansing & disinfection of vehicles

Learn more about how the cleansing and disinfection of vehicles used to carry livestock reduces the risk of disease transmission

Farm animal transport journey times

If you transport animals as part of your business, the law is explicit on the duration of the journey and the vehicles that can be used

Keeping pet pigs

Your duties if you keep pigs as pets, including identification requirements and movement records

Livestock transport vehicles

Vehicles used to transport animals must meet certain requirements to protect the animals in transit

The keeping & movement of pigs

Pig keeping requires careful record keeping; the movement of pigs is also tightly controlled

The welfare of animals during transport

If you transport animals as part of your business, they must be fit for the journey and must not suffer unduly during it

Transporting horses by road

Horses' fitness for, and welfare during, journeys by road; plus other requirements, including the suitability of vehicles

Transporting livestock by road: paperwork

There are strict rules about the paperwork that needs to be held by those who transport animals as part of a business

Markets and animal gatherings

Animal gatherings

The requirements at animal gatherings - such as livestock shows - to reduce the risk of disease spreading

Buying & selling of livestock

Check the details and health status of the livestock you buy or sell

Calves at market

In order for calves to be accepted for sale at market, specific conditions must be satisfied

Cattle keepers & livestock shows

What the law says about taking cattle to shows and the need for passports

Livestock markets

An overview of the key issues to be mindful of at a livestock market, including the sale of animals and biosecurity

The welfare of horses at markets etc

The law protects the welfare of horses (including donkeys, ponies, etc) when at a market or on sale elsewhere

Poultry at markets: handling & transport

What the law says about the welfare, handling and transportation of poultry, particularly at markets

Slaughter and disposal

Casualty slaughter for farmers & hauliers

What the law says about the health and fitness of animals prior to their transportation and emergency on-farm slaughter

Deer carcase & offal disposal

In order to reduce the risk of disease-spread there are strict requirements when disposing of deer carcases (both farmed and wild)

Disposal of animal by-products

Specific requirements for the disposal of fallen farm animals, including the requirement to test for BSE

Home slaughter for private consumption

The rules that apply to the home slaughter of livestock intended for private consumption

Home slaughter of cattle

Specific procedures must be followed for the home slaughter of cattle for your own private consumption

Home slaughter of sheep

Specific procedures must be followed for the home slaughter of sheep for your own private consumption

Humane disposal of infant calves

Calves that are killed on-farm are subject to specified procedures to ensure that the process is carried out in a humane manner

The food chain

Disposal of surplus food

Surplus food of animal origin must be disposed of safely to control the risk of disease to both animals and humans

Food hygiene for farmers & growers

Failure to adopt basic food hygiene procedures can lead to contamination or damage

Food chain information

If you take animals to an abattoir you must supply food chain information (FCI) before the animals can be accepted for slaughter

Feedback

Consumer enquiries from England, Scotland and Wales are handled by the Citizens Advice Consumer Service who can be contacted by telephone on 03454 04 05 06. Consumer enquiries in Northern Ireland are handled by ConsumerLine who can be contacted by telephone on 0300 1236262. Call charges may vary.

Business enquiries are dealt with by your local council. Use the Chartered Trading Standards Institute's postcode finder to locate your local trading standards team.