Farm animals are set to benefit from improved welfare rules with the Animal Sentience Bill.

Introduced to Parliament today (Thursday, May 13), the new bill recognises that animals are sentient beings which have feelings such as pain, fear and pleasure.

The action plan aims to improve welfare for farm animals by ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter.

It also introduces new measures to improve welfare during transport and at slaughter.

Police will be given more powers to protect livestock from out of control dogs.

The use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs will also be investigated.

In addition, there are plans to incentivise farmers to improve animal health and welfare as part of a new post-Brexit farming policy.

Responding to the plan, NFU president Minette Batters said she has concerns about welfare practices overseas and the competitive threat that they pose.

“I have serious concerns about the government’s intention to raise the bar at home, without any certainty that the same standards will be applied to imports.

"There are still many practices allowed in countries we are currently negotiating with that are banned here, on welfare grounds.

“For example, it is not uncommon to see journey times for live animals in Australia exceed 24 hours without access to feed or water.

"In comparison, the government has recently consulted on reducing domestic journey times in the UK to eight hours.

“It’s also important to recognise that two sectors the government has singled out, poultry and pigs, have some of the highest engagement levels in farm assurances schemes, meaning they are managed and audited against robust animal welfare standards.

“Just over a quarter of eggs sold in retail last year were from enriched cages.

"If this production system were to be banned in this country then there is every prospect that the demand would simply be fulfilled by importing eggs from countries with lower standards.

“If the government is to raise the welfare bar here, it must do so for food imports.

"It would simply be hypocritical to do otherwise.

"We cannot have a situation where British farmers adhere to some of the highest standards in the world, only to be undercut by imports that barely meet the lowest rung on the ladder."

The action plan also includes a commitment to introduce stronger powers to tackle livestock worrying and new laws to crack down on hare coursing.

Responding to these commitments, NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts said: “I’m pleased that the government has recognised more can be done to tackle rural crime, which continues to plague farmers and rural communities.

“For many years we have led the charge raising these issues at the highest level of government, sharing with Ministers and MPs just how farming families suffer emotionally, mentally and financially from increasing levels of rural crime.

“This plan to explore better powers to tackle livestock worrying and a pledge to introduce laws that crack down on hare coursing are significant steps that must be recognised."

Rules to tackle puppy smuggling, make keeping primates as pets illegal and ban imports of hunting trophies are also included in the bill, in a bid to protect domesticated and wild animals.