All abattoirs in England are to be fitted with CCTV cameras, under plans to ensure the welfare of animals being slaughtered.
The move will give veterinarians from the Food Standards Agency unrestricted access to footage of any areas of a slaughterhouse that house livestock.
It is hoped the move will ensure humane standards of animal care, as well as hygiene and safety standards, according to an updated statutory animal welfare code.
Any breaches could mean slaughterhouses receiving a welfare enforcement notice, the suspension of staff licenses or even a criminal investigation.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the moves would ensure food in the UK was produced to the “very highest standard” and would cement the UK’s status as a “global leader” in animal welfare.
Campaigners from animal rights groups have for years called for CCTV to be installed in slaughterhouses to protect against abuse and neglect.
The demand has been highlighted by footage taken from smuggled cameras in slaughterhouses that reveal shocking animal abuse. One 2015 film in a Yorkshire abattoir showed animals being thrown and hit.
British Veterinary Association president Gudrun Ravetz said the move would “provide an essential tool in fostering a culture of compassion that could help safeguard animal welfare”.
He added that the independence and qualifications of vets would ensure high standards are enforced.
According to the Humane Society, 2.6 million cows, 10 million pigs and 950 million birds are slaughtered each year in the UK.