15/04/2016 06:57 BST | Updated 15/04/2017 06:12 BST

Government's Blistering U-turn on Handing Animal Welfare Codes to Industry Was a Close-run Thing

I've recently had cause to think a lot about democracy and how close the rights of both humans and animals can come to being farmed out without our knowledge - and how important it is to be vigilant and join forces when you discover such a move is underway.

It was Easter week when I discovered that the Government was trying to remove current Statutory Codes on animal welfare standards for farmed animals. To compound matters Defra intended to place this in the hands of the farming industry itself.

Not much shocks us at Viva! anymore, but, as the Codes are not exactly brilliant as it is, I, along with hundreds of thousands of others as it later transpired, were appalled and horrified that this might happen.

The reason is that it is quite simply wrong in principle for Defra to assign the farming industry the lead role in writing an important rule book on farmed animal welfare.

In simple terminology, and in the view of Viva! and numerous other animal welfare organisations, it's akin to putting the lunatics in charge of the asylum.

The arguments against this change were manifold - led by Shadow Defra Minister Kerry McCarthy. I liaised with her and other UK animal welfare groups and we agreed that handing the policing of these standards to the agri-business would be disastrous. It would risk more animal cruelty, further overuse of antibiotics in farms and the downgrading of the guides in the eyes of the courts when abuse and malpractice is reported.

Even with the Codes in place the level of animal suffering in factory farms is horrendous. I've seen it with my own eyes many times.

Let's just take the case of chickens as an example - as these were first on Defra's deregulation hit list. They are without doubt the world's most abused animal. The figures are staggering: globally 50 billion chickens are killed each year. In the UK alone we kill around a billion chickens a year for food - and that's before we've even mentioned egg-laying hens.

As part of a Viva! campaigns initiative called Face Off, we have been asking the British public to view the insides of factory farms as we have gone undercover to investigate the living conditions for UK animals that are bred for food.

Most recently, we visited a Bedfordshire farm that claims to produce more than three million eggs a week. The Daily Mail ran the story on the things we found, which included cages crammed with chickens, dead and dying chickens and birds with no feathers.

None of the 450,000 birds caged there will never see the light of day because they are imprisoned for practically their whole lives in so-called 'enrichment' cages - where enrichment is laughably just a piece of filthy plastic.

Anyone who keeps chickens knows that they are intelligent and clever, funny and charming animals. None of these poor girls have felt the sun, wind or rain - they are living in hell and this is while we HAVE the Statutory Codes. Imagine what would happen if these were taken away?

It's no secret that Viva! thinks the only way to effectively stop this kind of farming from happening is by choosing a kinder diet and going vegan, however, the first step is surely just to start opening our eyes and facing up to these realities.

If we don't, we risk being conned not only by the meat and dairy industry about welfare standards but also - as these recent moves by Defra have shown - by our democratic process itself.