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Press Release April 2019

Defra admits to misleading over snake welfare issue

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has apologised for making misleading statements about its highly controversial handling of government guidance to pet shops concerning snake care. Defra, which oversees the Animal Welfare Act, has since last summer been under heavy fire from leading independent scientists and vets, as well as major veterinary and animal welfare organisations, for wrongly deleting a basic stipulation intended to allow captive snakes at least enough space to straighten their bodies – the so-called ‘1 x snake length provision’. The minimal snake welfare proviso was removed following a single pally letter from a Swindon based clinic of vets and nurses acting for the pet trade and hobby community.

Since August, Defra repeatedly claimed that they deleted the welfare provision at the request of the vets acting for vested interests and ‘evidence received’. But when challenged, it emerged that Defra never had any evidence. Having been exposed for acting on partial vested interest information and without real evidence, Defra tried to re-write the history of events by saying their original claim to having ‘received evidence’ was untrue and that instead they meant to say they had not received evidence that the snake welfare protection was necessary in the first place - a complete reversal!

But Defra’s embarrassing apology does not stick either. A decisive chain of correspondence (see attached), and information discovered under Freedom of Information rules, confirms that Defra did in fact base their removal of the snake protection on a single ‘friendly’ letter from the vet clinic representing the reptile keepers and breeders– thus laying a new mislead on top of the old!

Perhaps worse, Defra admitted to placing the interests of businesses and snake keepers above animal welfare, writing:

“We considered that if the 1x snake length was applied then the impact on businesses would result in the complete replacement of existing snake accommodation in most, if not all, commercial premises. This would have a serious impact on small businesses.”

Says biologist, Clifford Warwick, who has been corresponding with the government:

“Defra’s officers have backed their Department into an impossible and humiliating corner. They have issued one untrue statement after another in a poorly concealed effort to retrofit false-facts and mask their inappropriate and biased conduct throughout this issue, and then to clumsily try to retract claims that have come back to haunt them. Unfortunately, Defra’s latest apology only adds to their wrongdoing, and further reveals where their true priorities reside – protecting pet trader interests over animal welfare.”


  1. Letter from Defra to Clifford Warwick, 24 August 2018
  2. Statement by independent ad hoc scientific group on snake welfare (2018)
  3. Letter from Clifford Warwick to Defra, 21 January 2019