Farm Animal Welfare Council


Summary of open meeting on 14 June 2006

Welcome and opening remarks
Report on Welfare Labelling
Work in progress
Welfare Strategy
White Meat Slaughter
General Questions and Discussion

Welcome and opening remarks

1. Professor Wathes, Chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), welcomed everyone. He said that the purpose of the meeting was to inform key stakeholders about the forthcoming and previous year’s work and to allow them to voice their concerns about farm animal welfare. He thanked Martin Potter, Eddie Harper and John Don who left FAWC at the end of 2005. He welcomed Alison Ward, David Main, Huw Davies and Sandra Edwards, who were appointed to FAWC at the beginning of 2006, and David Foot who had recently been appointed as the new FAWC Secretary. He thanked Kumu Adihetty, who retired at the end of March, and Richard Aram for standing in until David Foot took up his post.

2. The Chairman gave an outline of the current FAWC structure and workload as follows:

(i) For the first time FAWC had drawn up a strategy for its work. This related to the 2006–2010 period and outlined the advice to Ministers that FAWC would give.

(ii) FAWC had improved its operational efficiency. There are now three standing committees that are responsible for major reports. These are Ruminants, Pigs Poultry and Fish and Ethics, Economics, Education and Regulation

(iii) FAWC has been working on its relationships with key stakeholders including Ministers, Implementation Groups, Chief Veterinary Officers and other advisory bodies particularly the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC). FAWC has also instigated a meeting in the autumn with other similar European bodies.

(iv) In addition to the Welfare Labelling Report FAWC expects to publish its reports on castration and tail docking of lambs and stockmanship in 2006. The reports on the slaughter of white meat animals and welfare strategy will follow in 2007 and 2007/8.

(v) Within the context of the FAWC Strategy the Council submitted 5 topics to Ministers for approval. Of these 3 were chosen as priorities:

  • The economics of farm animal welfare

  • Knowledge transfer

  • Disease and farm animal welfare

(vi) FAWC's standing committees will also be undertaking mini reports or opinions on selected topics. These will be:

  • Ruminants - The life expectancy of the dairy cow, lameness in sheep, lameness in cattle and zero grazing/ all year housing of dairy cows.

  • Pigs Poultry and Fish - Laying hen welfare, beak trimming and skeletal health and the welfare of farmed game birds.

  • Ethics, Economics, Education and Regulation – Policy instruments for improving farm animal welfare, sustainability and farm animal welfare, application of the 3R’s to farm animal welfare.

Report on Welfare Labelling

3. Professor Reiss thanked the Council, Working Group Members, stakeholders and the Secretariat for their contributions towards the report. Within the UK we need to take into account both EU and international law in respect of food labelling. The issue of welfare labelling is moving up the EU and international political agenda and is now more feasible. The fear that a mandatory system would be considered a technical barrier to trade under WTO/GATT agreements is receding. There are some examples of schemes that are helping to improve farm animal welfare, particularly the labelling of eggs within the EU. This started as a voluntary scheme but became mandatory within 7 years. In Switzerland battery systems are illegal and imported eggs produced in cage systems are required to be labelled as such. This has not been challenged in the WTO.

4. There are two arguments in favour of welfare labelling – 1). It is good for animals. 2). It is good for consumers enabling them to make choices when purchasing food. Recent surveys from the Co-op suggest that the introduction of a labelling system will not immediately lead to massive changes. It is difficult to predict the effects of either mandatory or voluntary labelling schemes when extrapolating from one country across the EU and worldwide. It is therefore too early for FAWC to make specific recommendations on the type of scheme that should be used. However, it could take the form of a simple tick (eg Freedom Food – where the product is either in or out of the scheme), gold silver or bronze, red amber or green etc. Examples of existing labelling schemes are in appendix one of the report.

5. Any labelling scheme should be done from the animal’s point of view with some form of measure across its entire lifetime. This raises questions on how a scheme could be weighted. For example, an animal may have had a good upbringing but may have had a bad journey to slaughter. It should also be based on welfare outcomes and apply both to domestic products and to imports. We would also like to include processed composite products but appreciate that this would be difficult. We have also recommended that public agencies purchase food derived from farm animals that have had better lives.

6. Mr Masood Khawaja – Halal Food Authority: Need to see reports earlier if we are to make comments.
FAWC Reply
: The report has been sent to Ministers who will consult on the report. There will then be a further opportunity for stakeholders to comment in detail.

7. Dr Mike Appleby – World Society for the Protection of Animals: Said he was encouraged by what he had heard and thought that welfare labelling could give advantages to farmers and will not necessarily be an additional cost to them. It will also create opportunities for overseas producers to import welfare friendly products into the UK. Suggest that the EuroFAWC initiative should establish links with other international bodies.
FAWC Reply
: The invitation to the September meeting has been sent to the European Commission, Council of Europe, FAO, OIE and WTO.

8. Dr Alan Long – VEGA: The report does not take account of what is happening in supermarkets that dominate this type of initiative.
FAWC Reply
: FAWC is well aware of the influence of supermarkets – a member of the group is a senior supermarket employee and we had good input from retailers when the report was prepared. Welfare provenance is becoming more important but some retailers are keeping quiet on the subject. We hope that the report will bring the issue into the open. However, we have no firm conclusions as to whether welfare information should be presented on labels, leaflets, websites etc.

9. Ms Julie Roxburgh – Shellfish Network: Note that the report refers to labelling in relation to all farm animal products including those from rendering on page 6. Would this include the gelatin used in children’s sweets?
FAWC Reply
: The report is primarily concerned with food but considers other animal-based products too.

10. Dr Syed Aziz Pasha - Union of Muslim Organisations of UK and EIRE: Would like to see labelling of GM foods.
FAWC Reply
: GM is a massive issue in Europe. If GM products were to be marketed in the UK and then FAWC would be concerned with the issue from the farm animal’s viewpoint.

11. Ms Rita Bloomberg – Vegetarian Economy and Green Agriculture (VEGA): It is excellent that the report is written from the animals point of view. How would a scheme account for the experience of the dairy cow where its calf is taken away for export much to its distress?
FAWC Reply
: FAWC has stated in the report that any labelling scheme would need to consider the whole life of an animal.

Work in progress

Welfare Strategy

12. Professor Morton said that the Welfare Strategy Working Group was formed to look at an ethically based framework for farm animal welfare over the next 20 years. This would be addressed to Ministers, farmers and those others working in the sector. FAWC needs to consider how the framework could be set up, and in doing so we need to look at animal outputs and how we can promote more positive farm animal welfare. The Five Freedoms refer to basic needs and in addition we need to emphasise that poor health is a welfare issue. We also need to look at the avoidance of disease and mutilations, longer-term analgesia for farm animals and the promotion of animal health and welfare planning and how to embed this in stockmen.

13. Rev A L Birkbeck – Asked whether any progress had been made over animal sentience versus profit.
FAWC Reply
: Agree that we need to engender the belief that animals are sentient beings and need to establish how sentience can be measured. The EU Welfare Quality project is looking at this to determine the quality of life up to the point of slaughter.

14. Dr Alan Long – VEGA – Said that perinatal mortality and mastitis could be measured by vets and the results could be reported to Ministers and that a scoring system should be used for broiler production which should be shown on labels.
FAWC Reply: It is difficult to weigh these in terms of the quality of life for farm animals. If you have a poor slaughter how do you weigh this over an entire life?

White Meat Slaughter

15. Mr Henderson said that the poultry industry in the UK was huge with hundreds of millions of birds. Larger poultry processors can slaughter birds at a rate of 10000 per hour. FAWC last reported on the slaughter of birds twenty years ago and a review of the process was now due. FAWC considers that the principles that should be applied to ensure good welfare at slaughter are:

  • Appropriate handling to minimise stress
  • Use of competent personnel
  • Use of appropriate equipment
  • Unconsciousness at point of slaughter
  • Ensuring that animals do not recover consciousness until death

The report on the slaughter of red meat animals was published in 2003 and the same group is looking at white meat animals. The report will look at killing by a number of different methods including electrical stunning and gassing and also casualty and emergency killing (which may be required in the case of avian influenza). There will be further visits to look at slaughter methods, meetings with researchers and stakeholders before the report is published next year.

16. Julie Roxburgh – Shellfish Network: Pleased to see that the slaughter of poultry is being picked up. Male chicks are usually destroyed shortly after hatching – how will this be assessed?
FAWC Reply
: FAWC is concerned with the welfare of day old chicks when killed and will address this in the report.

17. Rev A L Birkbeck: End of lay hens have little economic value and some abattoirs are not interested in handling them which may cause a welfare concern. FAWC Reply: The white meat slaughter will be looking at this issue.

18. Paul Berry – Paul Berry Associates: Will FAWC be looking at other systems abroad?
FAWC Reply
– FAWC has already been to look at systems in Holland and Germany.

19. Dr Mike Appleby – World Society for the Protection of Animals: End of lay hens are not covered by the Slaughter Act. Suggest a clarification of the word “slaughter”. Should be “the humane killing of all animals”.
FAWC Reply – The report will cover the slaughter and killing of poultry.

20. Michelle Cole – Trading Standards: Most catchers of hens are not English speaking. The new transport Regulation covers packing animals in crates. However it does not cover driver competence in loading lorries.
FAWC Reply
- FAWC Will be advising Defra on the implementation of the EU Transport Regulation.

General Questions and Discussion

21. Mr Frank Momber – National Beef Association: Noted from the review that FAWC had considered Bovine Tuberculosis. Had any conclusions been drawn?
FAWC Reply: Mr Vaughan said that in his view the disease does come from badgers and that we cannot live with the disease. We should not vaccinate and he questioned the validity of the science. FAWC is primarily concerned with the welfare of the cow and there is no equivalent welfare organisation for wild animals (ie badgers). However, whether wild or domestic they are living in the same space and suffering from the same disease. Mr Pritchard (Defra) said that welfare of wild animals is partly governed by game and fishing laws which state that killing should be as humane as possible.

22. Ms Rita Bloomberg – VEGA: Said that TB is far more prevalent in dairy herds – this says something about the strain that the dairy cow is under.
FAWC Reply: The Ruminants Standing Committee will be looking at the longevity of the dairy cow.

23. Mr Geoffrey Hollis: Asked about the speed of the Government response to FAWC Reports.
FAWC Reply: We have seen a draft response to the Biotechnology report. Defra is looking at the Farm Assurance scheme report but we have heard nothing on the Markets and Transport report. We would expect to hear about a response within a year of the publication of a report.

24. Dr Mike Appleby – World Society for the Protection of Animals: Asked whether FAWC reviews or follows up its reports.
FAWC Reply: This will partly be the role of FAWC’s Standing Committees in future. However, FAWC does presently review its reports. The draft Castration and Tail Docking report includes a review of recommendations made in the 1994 Report on the Welfare of Sheep.

25. Mr Masood Khawaja – Halal Food Authority: How do we ensure that imported products are in compliance with our welfare standards.
FAWC Reply: Supermarkets look to ensuring that meat products are produced to standard specifications but there is little guarantee.

26. Julie Roxburgh – Shellfish Network: Note the resumption of live exports and asked for FAWC’s views.
FAWC Reply: FAWC would encourage short journey times for farm animals and would not support long journeys in poor conditions.

27. Dr Alan Long – VEGA: In connection with the Welfare Labelling Report consumers do not necessarily want to know the details about how an animal is slaughtered but prefer ”cosy” terms like “free range”. The consumption of shell eggs slumped in the 1990’s. They have been remarketed with terms like free range and the consumption has gone up.
FAWC Reply: We would hope that a good system of welfare labelling would help to improve farm animal welfare.

28. Dr Victoria Sandilands – Scottish Centre for Animal Welfare Science: Asked about the circumstances in which ventilation shutdown would be used, in the event of an outbreak of avian influenza, as a method of poultry slaughter.
FAWC Reply: FAWC has been considering this but it is too early to give an opinion. Offered to keep Dr Sandilands informed of FAWC thinking on this subject.



Last modified 11 July, 2006
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