Farm Animal Welfare Council
Proceedings of the Farm Animal Welfare council's open meeting held on 27 June 2002
Welcome and introductions
1. The Chairwoman welcomed attendees to the 4th FAWC Open Meeting and introduced the Working Group Chairman sitting on the top table. The Open Meeting was a good opportunity to learn more about FAWC's activities over the last year and to put questions to FAWC. It was also an opportunity for FAWC to receive views from interested parties.
2. FAWC's Annual Review 2001/2002, launched at the meeting, summarised the years work and included 2 policy papers: the Welfare Standards of the Food We Eat and FAWC's submission to the Curry Commission on the Future of Food and Farming.
3. The policy that FAWC should ensure not just the welfare standards of the food we produce in GB but applying these standards to all the food consumed here was launched 2 years ago. The aim of reconnecting consumer and producer contained in the Curry Commission Report emphasised the importance of this policy. FAWC believed that a significant sector of consumers was accepting the principle that a set of acceptable standards should be applied to all the food consumed in Britain. The consuming public needed to drive retailers and the catering sector towards this end.
4. There was an argument that consumers said one thing when asked about animal welfare and then behaved differently in their purchasing decisions. FAWC's view was that the consumer was not one homogeneous entity. Some consumers would continue to buy on price but there are many others who wish to have a choice about the welfare standards of the food they consumed. Transparent and reliable labelling is a cornerstone to meeting the needs of this latter group - and to ensuring that industry producing to these acceptable standards continues to be viable.
5. FAWC had reproduced its submission in its Annual Review. The Commission had asked FAWC to think about how animal welfare would relate to agriculture up to ten years into the future. Out of FAWC's considerations had come 4 recommendations:
6. Labelling of production system would need to be clearly understandable by the consumer. Response - Agreed that a simple method of indicating on a product that the minimum acceptable standards have been met in the production system was required.
7. What is the response to the Curry Commission Report? Response - Defra was currently gathering responses from a large number of interested organisations, including FAWC, to the recommendations of the Curry Commission.
8. Disappointment expressed at the 10 year timescale for surveillance of animal welfare and disease. Response - Recommendation did not mean that surveillance could wait for 10 years to happen. Such surveillance was in place already but needed improvement.
9. The single inspection force called for in FAWC's recommendation (2) to the Curry Commission was queried. Farmers were being subjected to any number of inspections by many organisations which all called on their limited resources. Response - FAWC was aware of the difficulties and saw better co-ordination of the various inspections as the solution.
10. What was the point of inspecting farms other than without notice? Response - Spot checks were sometimes necessary but a professional auditor should be able to detect problems inherent in the system even where notice had been given.
11. Integration of animal health and welfare with human health and welfare was called for. Alternative foods from non-animal sources were available and removing 10% of domesticated animals by replacing them with alternatives would be a move forward. Response - FAWC's role is to advise on farm animal welfare in livestock systems.
12. There was support for the inclusion of animal welfare in WTO negotiations but until then there were concerns about products imported from systems operated to lower welfare standards. Pressing for labels on imports was not as positive as quality labelling for local production. Concerns were expressed about bans on particular production systems either on an EU or UK basis without any ability to ban third country imports. Reliance on consumer choices made in response to labels was not always reliable. Response - EU Member States have taken views on behalf of their populace about acceptable production systems. WTO negotiations about acceptable minimum standards would take some time but in the short term consumer choice based on honest, simple and reliable labelling could support acceptable production methods.
13. The Chairwoman drew attention to the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Report published by FAWC in January 2002, contained in each delegate pack. The Report had grown during 2001 out of advice given and experiences gathered by members during the year. The Report had been submitted to the FMD enquiries and verbal evidence had also been given to these bodies.
14. Attention was drawn to media reports that highlighted animal movements between markets as exacerbating the outbreak. Treatment in livestock markets was harsh. What is the future of livestock markets and of livestock marketing in general? Response - to be addressed under Markets and Transport Group report.
15. There had been several contributing factors to the spread of FMD. Significantly it had been 30 years since the last outbreak and vets were unused to looking for its symptoms. LVI and SVS numbers had also declined since the last outbreak. Response - FAWC made a recommendation in its report for a State Veterinary Reserve. As well as reacting to any outbreak this could also help with welfare and disease surveillance at times of no crisis.
16. It was pointed out that LVIs still attended at all markets and that other inspectors included those from local authorities and the RSPCA. Markets were public places and all were welcome.
17. One of the major welfare issues during the outbreak of FMD was the plight of those animals trapped on farm without sufficient fodder or other resources. The bureaucracy surrounding movements was unwieldy. Response - FAWC advised at the time on prioritisation of welfare relief. There were alternative ways of solving welfare problems rather than resorting to total culls under the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme, including Welfare Vouchers for fodder or bedding, or a partial cull.
18. Movements of animals did contribute to the spread of disease. Sheep were known to have moved up to eight times. A view was called for on restricting numbers of movements. Response - As long back as the Report on the Welfare of Sheep in 1994, FAWC had alerted government to increase in sheep movements and the reasons for them, including headage payments. FAWC's view was that animals should be kept in good livestock systems and slaughtered as close by as possible. However, it was recognised that some movements were inevitable. The lack of individual identification of sheep made control of movements a problem.
19. Agreement was expressed with the recommendation for a State Veterinary Reserve. This would require regular training in all diseases.
20. David Henderson reported that the remit of the group was to formulate advice on the welfare of red meat animals from arrival at the slaughterhouse to killing. The principles the Group was working to were:
21. There had been a delay to visits during the FMD outbreak but the Group did address the problems of field slaughter in disease control situations and fed this into the FMD Report. Visits had now resumed and it was hoped to see horse, deer, ostrich and wild boar slaughter soon. The Group had recently seen Shechita slaughter and hoped to also see Halal soon. The Group had begun drafting its report and hoped to publish around the end of 2002. Mr Henderson thanked all those who had helped the Group during its study, especially those slaughterhouses that had opened their doors to FAWC.
22. Were slaughterhouses given prior notice of FAWC visits? Response - FAWC was not an inspectorate entitled to walk into slaughterhouses without notice. The Secretariat made arrangements for the whole Group to attend fact finding visits.
23. Raised reports in the media of illegal sales of smoked goat meat. Response - Report will consider private kills.
24. The FAWC review of red meat slaughter was welcomed. FAWC made strong recommendations on the slaughter of farmed fish in 1996. No action had yet been taken on the recommended ban of suffocation on ice for trout. Response - a review of some of the recommendations from the FAWC Report on the Welfare of Farmed Fish was now due. Interested parties would be consulted about advances made since the report's publication.
25. View on piece rates in slaughterhouses? Response - Would be covered in the Slaughter Report. Said in FMD report that a piece rate was inappropriate for field killing in disease situations.
26. Miriam Parker reported that the Group had been allowing the dust to settle after FMD. 12 months ago the law on livestock movements was changing every week. Visits had resumed and so far the Group had seen a video market and horse sale. The long task of drafting would now begin. A further consultation was planned this summer to consider methods of marketing in the aftermath of FMD experience. This would be included in the report.
27. Identification of animals in markets was a problem when ear tags could be lost. Cats and dogs have microchips but was there any work on alternatives to tags for farm animals? Response - There were ongoing EU trials of electronic identification devices for farm animals, such as electronic boluses, but welfare assessments of these procedures were needed to inform decision making. There were problems with microchips migrating in food animals but technology might solve this. Retinal identification was another method under consideration.
28. Noted the difficulty of limiting distance travelled for poultry, since some types, e.g. spent hens would only be taken by a very small number of slaughterhouses. Abattoirs closer to production for all farm animals would be preferable. Response - Have made this point to Government many times. Economics of the slaughter industry is often quoted as the reason for not challenging reductions in numbers of slaughterhouses.
29. The trade in spent hens, which very few slaughterhouse would take because of their low value, was raised. This led to long distance transport of poultry with its inherent problems. Response - Noted that different types of animals were marketed differently. FAWC would be seeking comments on all these issues in a consultation on the future of livestock marketing.
30. John Don reported that FAWC had produced an Interim Report on the Animal Welfare Impact of Farm Assurance Schemes in September 2001 and thanked all those who had responded so positively. He noted with satisfaction the appointment of Professor Morton to the Assured Food Standards Board, the fruition of one of the Report's recommendations.
31. Farm assurance was a rapidly moving area and the next report would reflect this. It would also look in more detail at organic production and the food service sector. Much of the latter appeared to need an expression of consumer demand before taking any action on animal welfare. With an increasingly high proportion of food spend going to the catering sector this was an area of concern. Issues continued to be the quality of auditing of schemes, demonstrable stockmanship and honest and credible labelling.
32. Would support FAWC in its belief that food should be properly labelled to give the consumer choices. Concern that intensively produced animal products can be marketed under farm assurance schemes as welfare friendly. Response - Not all intensive systems led to bad welfare. The Red Tractor mark was a set of standards in its early stages. It was generally accepted that there must be minimum welfare standards, which FAWC believed should be the Welfare Codes. No system was without potential welfare problems but all should comply with minimum standards.
33. SSPCA co-operated with Quality Meat Scotland to ensure high welfare standards. The public needed to be educated about food quality standards and make choices on the basis of that knowledge. If they did not understand even the basic agricultural systems then there was little hope of raising their expectations.
34. Education could help some but the majority of consumers would buy the special offer put to them by the retailer regardless of the standards of production. Retailers needed to be honest about the provenance of the products they sold.
35. The public was confused about farm assurance schemes. Some had been exposed in the tabloids as having poor welfare standards and intensive methods. Response - It was FAWC's task to comment on the welfare implications of farm assurance schemes, which it had done and would continue to do. Retailers felt that their consumers trusted them to supply quality products but this trust would only last until something went wrong and/or was exposed.
36. Felt that retailers belied consumers' trust if farm assurance schemes operated to standards below the welfare codes, which FAWC saw as the minimum acceptable standard. Systems which it had been agreed should be phased out should not be used. There were a plethora of labels for consumers to wade through so labelling should be made clearer. The opinion of consumers should be sought in this process. Response - It was difficult to tap into genuine consumer opinion without expensive surveys. Lobby groups could give opinions but these might not reflect society as a whole. FAWC had made contacts in the consumer organisations, most recently, for example, with the National Association of Women of Great Britain.
37. Martin Potter reported that the R&D Group was focusing its efforts on mechanisms to monitor and control novel biotechnologies, breeding technologies and livestock breeding programmes. This study would lead to a report in early 2003 setting out a suggested framework for controls. There had been concern expressed by a number of groups over the last ten years about the lack of control over biotechnology in agriculture. Recommendations had been made by the Banner committee and in FAWC's own Cloning Report. Once technologies left the control of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 there was little control available. Techniques and animals could also be imported with the technology already developed.
38. Even conventional breeding had welfare implications and techniques such as gene mapping were blurring the line between breeding and biotechnology and speeding up the breeding selection process. FAWC had highlighted in its Report on the Welfare of Dairy Cattle that some mastitis and lameness was a result of ill-considered selective breeding. A control mechanism needed to be able to address this.
39. Current thinking was that a statutory authority was required to deal with issues on a case by case basis. Issues could be referred from ASPA, RCVS, SVS, FAWC, etc. Other issues that the authority might address could include suitability of breed for environmental conditions, e.g. modern dairy cattle and broilers in organic production, and the ethical integrity of animals.
40. How did FAWC's study fit in with similar work being carried out by the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission? Response - FAWC has met with AEBC to discuss the issues. Previous recommendations, and the AEBC's latest draft report, flagged the need for a strategic body to oversee control. FAWC intended to go into more detail about how the controls might work. It would be helpful for such a body to work with industry to identify potential welfare problems and work together towards solutions.
41. Organic standards require that the breed should be suitable for the conditions. Farmers converting to organic production soon changed breed for those better suited.
42. The Burns Report on hunting identified cruelty and utility as the issues. Genetic modification could produce more animals than we have utility for. Do we need to produce so many? Response - In economic terms the increased productivity and efficiency sought by modification was often irrelevant providing no increased profitability for the producer and cutting only a few pence from the average food bill.
43. Selective breeding did have benefits other than productivity. Environmental benefits accrued from poultry bred for indoor systems because of reduced water intake, control of waste, etc. Birds could also be bred better suited to extensive systems. Response - Comments in the area of biotechnology and breeding indicated how complex the issues were.
44. What is FAWC's attitude to BST? Response - Unchanged since the statement made in 1994. There were adverse welfare affects caused by the use of BST and it could also cover up for poor stockmanship. BST was considered to be an unnecessary boost for an animal already producing to capacity. Mastitis and lameness were often the result.
45. John McInerney, the Working Group Chairman was representing FAWC in New Zealand and giving a paper on animal welfare, ethics, economics and productivity. Stephen Lister presented the Group's report.
46. The main issues for the Group in 2001 included broiler leg health. Since 1992 FAWC had been looking to the industry for improvements in this area. The industry had begun this through the largest survey of its type conducted, which FAWC looked forward to seeing published in a peer reviewed Journal. A statistical analysis of the survey data had been published and FAWC had responded. Council accepted that there had been a statistical reduction in incidence over the period of the survey but felt that it still had a responsibility to the welfare of birds where problems persisted. A large, Defra funded research project on broiler leg health was to be welcomed.
47. Other issues addressed by the Group were: the need for a poultry registration scheme, a long term recommendation; the skeletal health of laying hens, including handling of spent hens; and the future of enriched cages. The Minister's announced consultation on enriched cages had lent impetus to FAWC's review of progress since its Report on the Welfare of Laying Hens in 1997. Back then FAWC had called for more research into enriched cages and it was now time, at the Minister's request, to review that work. Beak trimming was also mentioned in the Minister's announcement. FAWC had repeatedly recommended research to obviate the need for beak trimming. Council would not like to see the practice continue and welcomed the Minister's call for an action plan.
48. The two areas of most concern relating to spent hens were catching at end of lay causing bone damage and the transport of birds for slaughter. Response - Intend to look at the treatment of spent hens.
49. Would FAWC look at hatcheries to see how chicks were handled and male chicks disposed of? Response - Aware of the issues and have commented to Government. Potential for technology to help with sexing of eggs.
50. Hatcheries had worked with the Humane Slaughter Society on humane disposal of day old chicks and a welfare code had been published. Industry was concerned to ensure good practice was observed.
51. Asked where spent hens were processed? Response - The Chairwoman said that FAWC had often expressed concern about the relationship between an animal's financial worth and its welfare. The White Meat Slaughter Study might also look into this area when it began work in 2003.
52. Tony Gray reported that the S&C Group did much of its work behind the scenes on the issues that underpinned the Council. Main functions were strategy development, operational planning, external relations and promotion of FAWC. The Group had recently been responsible for development of the FAWC Website, preparation of the Annual Review and planning for the Open Meeting. Mr Gray thanked the Secretariat for all its work on these areas.
53. The S&C Group was developing views on stockmanship which it hoped to produce in the form of a FAWC report in due course. The future of livestock production was dependent on the high calibre of staff and their continuous development. Whatever the system, welfare would suffer without good stockmanship.
54. How did FAWC communicate with Government in order to ensure that its advice did get acted upon? Response - This was a common problem for advisory bodies. FAWC produced considered advice which Government might sit on, or respond to without detail. Recommendations might also be aimed at other bodies than Government (e.g. the industry, retailers,) for implementation. Targeted recommendations with time limits were one way of ensuring that advice was addressed by Government and other organisations responsible. Another approach being developed by FAWC currently was to put recommendations on the FAWC Website together with a note of any response. It was necessary that records of action taken on recommendations be publicly available.
55. Expressed concern within the farming industry about the exodus of labour. Where were the stockmen of the future to come from? Response - FAWC recognised the labour difficulties in agriculture. To attract people to the workforce, farming needed to be made an attractive career. This implied the industry needed to be profitable with a secure future.
56. Education was the key to attracting people to rural activities early. Little in this area was coming from Government and it was not FAWC's role. To be able to understand how meat was produced children needed to be aware of the issues. Response - FAWC was not resourced to carry out this role but would agree with the principle and seek to motivate others. Council was aware that FACE and NFU were already involved in discussions on the national curriculum. FAWC shared concerns expressed about the drift of stockmen from farming and the lack of farmer succession. There were suggestions in the Curry Report for supporting education and training, e.g. vouchers and advice to farmers but this must include welfare as well as food safety and environment. This support needed Government funding.
57. Expressed disappointment at the anti-farming feeling coming from the floor of the meeting. There was a need for a viable farming industry to feed Britain and some of this was necessarily intensive. Sensible views were coming from the top table but some attendees did not seem to be thinking practically.
58. Welcomed the comment above. SSPCA worked with industry to make practical improvements for animals.
59. Called for comments on the draft Defra code of recommendations for the welfare of cattle. The code's language should be tighter to make it enforceable. There should be no pain and distress caused to animals rather than no unnecessary pain and distress.
60. The Meat Hygiene Service produced meat hygiene assessments of abattoirs but should also produce assessments of welfare. Response - The upcoming slaughter report would address systems of self audit for slaughterhouses and this, and other issues, had been discussed recently at an annual meeting with the Food Standards Agency. MHS already had a system of welfare surveillance in abattoirs which stratified welfare problems into less serious, serious and offences causing cruelty, which usually prompted a prosecution.
61. Could a database of producers banned from keeping animals for cruelty be published? Response - Criminal records were available to enforcement officers but general publication of such a list would be unlawful.
62. Animal care lecturers had done some work in schools in the past but the relevant qualifications had been removed from the curriculum. Perhaps FAWC could influence other Government Departments to put animal care back on the agenda. Response - Aware that the review of the Curry Commission's recommendations will look at this.
63. The Chairwoman thanked everyone for attending and invited them to stay for refreshments. She introduced the other FAWC Council members present, Gareth Lloyd, Peter English, Rosemary Berry, Graham Godbold, Eddie Harper and Mike Vaughan, and offered the opportunity to network and discuss any other issues with the FAWC members.
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