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.
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 and killing of livestock.Back to top
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 or killing. 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
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.
Authorities and 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.
In-depth guidanceThis 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 & animal feed
Understand what is required if you import feed or food from outside the UK
The hygiene of feed production, handling, storage and record keeping are critical to the safety and traceability of feeding stuffs
Understand what is required of you if you transport animal feeding stuffs
Recognise the legal implications of making pet foods at home, including the need for registration / approval
There are different requirements for the mixing of feeding stuffs on-farm, depending on the use of additives or premixtures
The law requires any pet food that you sell to be labelled with certain information
Animal diseases & records
If you keep horses, donkeys or mules you will want to be aware of this fatal disease
Understand more about anthrax and the implications of an outbreak for animals and humans
Understand more about avian influenza and the possible implications of an outbreak
The 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
Understand more about how BSE is controlled in the UK via testing of slaughtered and fallen cattle that meet certain criteria
Learn about classical swine fever and how the risk of an outbreak can be reduced
The importance of contingency planning in minimising the impact of a livestock disease outbreak
The impact of foot-and-mouth disease, and how an outbreak can be prevented
Understand the implications of rabies and the controls that are in place to prevent an outbreak in the UK
Find out more about this disease and the impact that it can have on livestock
Sheep infected with sheep scab are required to be treated, and their movements are controlled by the local authority
Bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) occurs worldwide and can affect cattle of all ages
Local authorities in England licence certain activities involving animals - such as dog breeding - and the relevant establishments relating to this
Identification & general ownership, including pets
If you keep cattle you need to know about tagging and passports and what to do if a passport is refused
Rules concerning the identification of goats and the need to maintain records of their movements
If you own a horse or any other type of equine you need to know how to ensure your animal is identified with the correct documents
Your duties if you keep pigs as pets, including identification requirements and movement records
A record of all veterinary medicines that have been used to treat food-producing animals must be retained
If you keep poultry or racing pigeons there are certain registration and record-keeping requirements
Understand the requirements for herd registration, tagging, passports and record keeping for all keepers of cattle
Essential welfare information for individuals that keep animals, including pets and livestock
Rules concerning the identification of sheep and the need to maintain records of their movements
Keeping & transport of livestock
Learn more about how the cleansing and disinfection of vehicles used to carry livestock reduces the risk of disease transmission
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
Vehicles used to transport animals must meet certain requirements to protect the animals in transit
Pig keeping requires careful record keeping; the movement of pigs is also tightly controlled
If you transport animals as part of your business, they must be fit for the journey and must not suffer unduly during it, and the means of transport must be appropriate for the species concerned
Horses' fitness for, and welfare during, journeys by road; plus other requirements, including the suitability of vehicles
There are strict rules about the paperwork that needs to be held by those who transport animals as part of a business
There are particular requirements when moving animals between Great Britain and other countries; in this guide the requirements for importing are discussed
There are particular requirements when moving animals between Great Britain and other countries; in this guide the requirements for exporting are discussed
Markets & animal gatherings
The requirements at animal gatherings - such as livestock shows and markets - to reduce the risk of disease spreading
Check the details and health status of the livestock you buy or sell
In order for calves to be accepted for sale at market, specific conditions must be satisfied
What the law says about taking cattle to shows and the need for passports
An overview of the key issues to be mindful of at a livestock market, including the sale of animals and biosecurity
The law protects the welfare of horses (including donkeys, ponies, etc) whilst at a market or on sale elsewhere
What the law says about the welfare, handling and transportation of poultry, particularly at markets
Slaughter & disposal
What the law says about the health and fitness of animals prior to their transportation and emergency on-farm slaughter
In order to reduce the risk of disease-spread there are strict requirements when disposing of deer carcases (both farmed and wild)
Specific requirements for the safe disposal of fallen farm animals, including the requirement to test for BSE
The rules that apply to the home slaughter of livestock intended for private consumption
Specific procedures must be followed for the home slaughter of cattle for your own private consumption
Specific procedures must be followed for the home slaughter of sheep for your own private consumption
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
Surplus food of animal origin must be disposed of safely to control the risk of disease to both animals and humans
Failure to adopt basic food hygiene procedures can lead to contamination or damage
If you take animals to an abattoir you must supply food chain information (FCI) before the animals can be accepted for slaughter
Guidance for businesses - such as supermarkets, brewers, distillers, biofuel manufacturers, dairies and food manufacturers - that supply co-products and surplus foods for animal feed