Farm Animal Welfare Council


Farm Animal Welfare Council proceedings of open meeting on 30 June 2004

Welcome and opening remarks
Markets and Transport
Farm Assurance Schemes
Research and Development/Breeding Report
Strategy and communication
Poultry Issues
Welfare labelling
Open floor

Welcome and opening remarks.

1. The Chairwoman drew the audience’s attention to the appointments letter in their pack. FAWC was seeking 4 new members and a new Chair to begin work in 2005 and she invited nominations from strong candidates.

2. She also drew attention to the consultation letter on welfare labelling and asked that comments be sent to the Secretariat. These documents were also available on the FAWC Website.

3. Both the Annual Review 2003/2004 and a Report on the Welfare Implications of Animal Breeding and Breeding Technologies in Commercial Agriculture were being launched at the Open Meeting. There would be a presentation on the latter and opportunity to comment later.

4. There would be updates from the various working groups on their activities over the year and opportunity to ask questions and make points on these and general animal welfare issues.

Markets and Transport.

5. There were three main issues facing the Group:

  • The draft report had changed significantly since Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 and the Group’s remit had widened to encompass all types of animal gathering, not just markets, and their welfare challenges. Main issues were the facilities provided, animal handling and the roles and responsibilities of the people in the system. A problem identified was the inconsistency between the legislation for markets and other gatherings. Stakeholder meetings held recently had been very useful and the report was due for publication by the end of 2004.
  • EU transport issues.
  • Electronic identification of sheep particularly and the welfare issues involved.

6. Question – The CVO’s report discusses infringements in markets. What is being done? FAWC response – The level of supervision and responsibilities of people in the gathering would be issues raised in the report. It also hinged on how enforceable the law was. It was hoped that Defra would pick this area up in the Animal Welfare Bill.

7. Question – We want to see action, not just words, and a timescale for such action arising from FAWC reports. Markets, live transport, factory farming; any improvements have had to be hard fought for by campaigners. FAWC response – FAWC advises Government on the best information available but this takes time. This long term view does not preclude enforcement of the existing law. Once FAWC has reported Defra needed to move quickly. Legislation is one way to protect welfare but there are others. The law punishes cruelty and negligence but there are enhancements to welfare possible as well. For example, some farm assurance schemes require elevated welfare standards and FAWC will continue to press for a welfare standard of the food we eat rather than produce, ensuring all food is produced to acceptable standards. Producers need drive, enthusiasm and willingness to do the right thing.

8. Question – Live animal exports are morally bankrupt. Defra says it cannot stop the trade because of EU rules. If the UK was voted out of the EU then opportunity to stop the trade would come about. FAWC response – The principle that live exports should stop was supported by FAWC.

Farm Assurance Schemes.

9. The farm assurance schemes area was very complex and fast moving; from WTO and OIE global recognition of animal health and welfare to the detail of individual schemes. The Group’s report would try to reflect this. A number of issues were currently exercising the Group:

  • Herd health plans which can deliver better health and welfare for the animal on the farm improving profitability and adding to veterinary surveillance;
  • Audit and assessment, which needed to be credible and consistent;
  • Organic production;
  • Connection of the producer and consumer through relevant information.

The report was due Summer 2005.

10.Question – What should consumers be looking for on the shelves to indicate good welfare? FAWC response – A clear message that acceptable welfare standards had been met throughout production. This was easier said than done but the little red tractor scheme had gone some way towards this.

11. Question – She spoke to consumers about farm assurance and had heard about problems with global trade rules allowing imports with inferior welfare credentials. The consumer often voted with their purse at the supermarket. It was also important to know that assured farms were properly inspected. FAWC response – It was strange that science (i.e. disease control) could be used to restrict trade but not consumer preference. WTO and OIE would, in the long term, address this but the situation in the short term was more difficult. FAWC would like to see a set of standards for food consumed in the UK whether it was produced inside or outside the UK. The large buyers, i.e. the retailers, had the power to lead on standards.


12. A year ago FAWC had produced a Report on the Welfare of Farmed Animals at Slaughter or Killing for Red Meat Animals. The report had contained 94 recommendations for the improvement of animal welfare. Government’s response was carefully thought out and accepted 54 of these, partially accepted 19 and rejected 18. FAWC would be sending a robust reply to Government’s consultation in order to influence their thinking on some of the partially accepted and rejected recommendations.

13. The Working Group was now concentrating on the welfare of white meat species at slaughter. A poultry veterinarian and an ethicist had now joined the experienced group. The research community was initially being consulted followed with many visits to poultry processors. Meetings with other stakeholders would be interspersed with these visits.

14. The same principles followed in the red meat slaughter report would be used to underpin the white meat slaughter study:

  • pre-slaughter handling facilities which minimise stress;
  • use of competent well trained, caring personnel;
  • appropriate equipment which is fit for the purpose;
  • an effective process which induces immediate unconsciousness and insensibility or an induction to a period of unconsciousness without distress; and
  • guarantee of non-recovery from that process until death ensues.
    The group would also consider transport to the slaughterhouse as part of the welfare challenge facing poultry once they left the farm. Animal welfare would be paramount in the Group’s minds.

15. Question – Agreed with the Defra response to FAWC report. Recommendations 61 & 62 were unlikely to prevail over religious freedom. The horned cattle recommendation was not correct. FAWC response – FAWC’s role was to make recommendations to protect the welfare of farm animals and on this basis it needed to make its recommendations on slaughter without pre-stunning. During its visits to both markets and abattoirs horned cattle had been described, and seen, to be a danger to other animals and staff. FAWC would like to encourage a culture of disbudding calves at an early age when it was not a major operation. Council did not want adult cattle dehorned. Council had called for exceptions for traditionally long horned breeds.

16. Question – The UK slaughters nearly 1 billion animals a year, a massacre for which all meat eaters were responsible. This did not include fish. Domestic and imported product was increasing. If we could reduce consumption of meat by 10% then 1 million animals would be taken “off the hook”. The Food Standards Agency was responsible for food standards and not just food safety and was recommending reductions in meat consumption. FAWC should talk to FSA. Veterinarians vow to do their utmost for animals in their care but humane slaughter was still not being achieved. Vets should lead on changing this and on communication with consumers. FAWC response – FAWC’s red meat slaughter report did make points about veterinary responsibility in slaughterhouse as well as training and licensing of slaughtermen.

17. Question – Halal meat trade was 27% of the whole. He could go along with most of the red meat slaughter report but obviously not with stunning to kill. He queried what insensibility until death ensued meant in the context of the white meat slaughter consultation. FAWC response – The wording about insensibility came from the principles applied to slaughter by the red meat report, and now the white meat study. The Group would consult and visit widely all types of white meat slaughter and make considered recommendations.

18. Question – Government promised improved welfare at slaughter in its 1997 manifesto and it had now ducked out of this by rejecting FAWC recommendations. Meat produced by slaughter without pre-stunning should be labelled honestly. FAWC response – Government raised labelling in its draft response following correspondence from consumers. FAWC believes it is important that livestock products have information on their welfare provenance.

Research and Development/Breeding Report.

19. The Report on the Welfare Implications of Animal Breeding and Breeding Technology in Commercial Agriculture was launched at the Open Meeting. This report had been discussed at the last Open meeting and many good ideas had been forthcoming. Stakeholder consultations had also informed the report’s progress.

20. The Group had looked at real and potential problems and considered how best to solve them. The report recommended mechanisms for considering breeding and breeding technology, mainly through a standing committee. The report avoided addressing specific problems, other than as examples, but did revisit previous recommendations FAWC had made over the last 10 years in an appendix.

21. This was not just a biotechnology report but also addressed the imbalance in conventional breeding. There have been biotechnology advances applied to breeding and the line between was being blurred. Any use of biotechnology was subject to public acceptance but the standing committee could provide reassurance that issues had been evaluated. There were also concerns about the importation of technology without assessment or field trials.

22. The standing committee could address ethical questions raised by the development of featherless broilers or less sentient pigs. There may be no strict breach of welfare but had there been a violation of the integrity of the animal? Domestic animals have had their behaviours bred out for years but is there a place to draw the line? Breeding technology could also bring positive benefits, e.g. sexed semen reducing unwanted calves’ numbers.

23. The Group had long discussed whether the standing committee should be regulatory or advisory and had finally decided on the latter. A regulatory body would have been legally complicated, restricted in its actions and would spend much of its time defending its decisions. This could also prove a barrier between the body and the industry. It was also thought that the new committee should report through FAWC but would need separate membership and expertise.

24. Veterinary surveillance would be important to the committee’s work. The new committee would need to be included in this section of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy.

25. Question – Expert knowledge would need to include geneticists from the commercial world. Any new committee must focus on welfare and ethics and not commerce. FAWC response – Confirm would need molecular geneticists but also a wider membership. NDPBs are responsible to the public and need to be acceptable and trustworthy. Any commercial bias would be seen. FAWC also saw a public information role for this body, similar to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. No NDPB can find expertise without some vested interest. As long a interests are overt this should not be a problem.

26. Question – Congratulated FAWC on its report and the excellent stakeholder meetings. The Report was very well thought out.

27. Question – With international trade in semen and ova it was likely that there would be gene banks abroad to buy from. How would this be controlled? It was easy enough to talk to the UK breeder but less simple globally. FAWC response – If the use of genetic material from abroad was subject to scrutiny then companies would need to think about whether the particular genetics they were buying would be acceptable. The globalisation of agriculture was recognised. FAWC was aware that other countries were setting up biotechnology committees which might network for effectiveness.

28. Question – Welcomed the report and its balanced recommendations. It seemed a good way forward. Confidence in the new body would come from the competence of the membership.

29. Question – We know that cattle are lame and mastitic but we have known this for decades. Synthetic dairy products could be made from plants without this suffering. He gathered from the report that there was no way of detecting GM animals amongst imports. How would consumers be protected? FAWC response – There were already rules in place that GM animals should be declared as such but the danger was the lack of outward expression of GM and how it could be enforced. As an important issue to the public it should be one that the new committee should take on.

30. Question – Did not agree with GM at all. Surveillance needed correct remuneration to be effective. FAWC response – this fits in well with consultations on vets and vet services. FAWC’s view is that welfare surveillance is a veterinary role and that payments to private practices should be tied to correct standards of work.

31. Question – Supported the recommendations. A new buzzword in breeding was robustness in disease and welfare terms. The report was timely.

Strategy and Communication.

32. Stockmanship was key to welfare, it appeared in all FAWC reports. There were competing pressures on livestock production which were recognised. There was a reduction in numbers of staff per animal and problems with job retention. Farmers handing farms down to family was reducing and newcomers to farming did not therefore have the lifetime experience of animals.

33. The S&C group had reviewed the available information, consulted widely with a helpful response and targetted consultation visits. A draft report on stockmanship was taking shape. This work would also need to feed into the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy.

34. Question – Stockmanship was critically important to livestock production. Loose housing in Holland had all but stopped because of a lowering of stockmanship standards.

35. Question – Familiar with reports that cattle in markets are bruised. Stockmanship is usually a positive but consideration needed to be widened to the negative aspects such as hitting in markets. Surveillance and consequences for poor animal treatment were needed. FAWC response – Bruising was different between markets so it was not so much what you do but how you do it (including layout and handling). The marketing report would address stockmanship and the need to monitor and enforce. Scoring of hitting and goading could give a measurable indication of how a market performed.

Poultry Issues.

36. The Group kept a watching brief on the poultry sector, which was prone to welfare challenges. In the laying hens sector skeletal health was a concern, particularly at end of lay. There were also concerns that end of lay hens were of low value with the potential for less favourable treatment. Enriched cages was still an issue due for review by Defra in 2005. FAWC would advise.

37. New research on broiler stocking density, unsurprisingly, seemed to show that broiler welfare was not as simple as just space provided and the Group would discuss the detail with researchers. On leg health the Bristol project should begin to provide some useful guidance in 2005.

38. He was encouraged that the industry was actively looking at new methods of treating the beak to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism while minimising mutilation to the bird. A promising infra red treatment was under assessment.

39. Question – Disliked any form of mutilation needed to keep animals in the way they are currently kept. Broilers grew too fast for their skeletons to carry them. FAWC response – There is a large intensive poultry industry in the UK and the expectation of cheap eggs and poultry meat. Beak trimming as a problem was accepted but signs for its replacement were encouraging.

40. Question – Beak trimming is not done on broilers. FAWC response – But it is required on broiler breeders and some laying hens.

41. Question – Legislation is growing on environmental issues making poultry keeping more difficult. The energy consumed by poultry producers needed to be reduced. Welfare aspects were tied into this.

42. Question – Wal-mart coming into the UK market was ensuring cheap food but at expense to the environment and the animals. FAWC response – This was difficult for FAWC to answer. We need to recognise that the achievement of the best of welfare standards possible in the world we live in was what could practically be brought about. FAWC was an analytical tool to provide realistic advice to Ministers. It was not a lobby group but the lobby groups out there were necessary to raise public perceptions.

Welfare labelling.

43. FAWC, as well as retailers and the EU, recognised that labelling is important. How can the consumer make choices about welfare provenance of the food they eat without it? This should include the welfare of animals in production, transport, markets and at slaughter. Processed food as well as meat should be included. Labelling might be voluntary or mandatory and could be used to flag up products inhabiting a welfare niche.

44. Question – Pictures on food labels could be misleading, e.g. a duck product with a heather strewn field on the label had been intensively reared. FAWC response – honesty was required.

45. Question – On religious slaughter a conference had made the point that the hind quarters of animals were not wanted by religious groups and these were then sold to the general market. This meat needed to be labelled. FAWC response – Government is seeking views on this very issue as part of its consultation on FAWC’s red meat slaughter report. Send yours in.

46. Question – UK production struggles against cheap imports. Not sure if it would support welfare labelling.

47. Question –Welcome FAWC’s welfare labelling work. However, proliferation of labels led to a danger of confusion.

48. Question – Food should be wholesome, honestly labelled and fit for human consumption. The Halal Food Authority placed its label on the food it could support.

49. Question – Around 50% of chicken breast meat was imported into UK, a lot of it from third countries with little or no welfare legislation. How would standards of imported food be recognised? If the label was for consumer choice then why were certain production systems banned in the EU. Perhaps the consumer should have that choice. FAWC response – Country of origin labelling is required and a secondary level of voluntary labelling for locality or quality issues was usually available to member states. Third countries could be inspected for standards. FAWC would like all food consumed in the UK produced to acceptable standards.

50. Question – They had held many discussions about Halal labelling with the Food Standards Agency. If the shop is a supermarket then a label was required but if the shop was a Halal butchers then not required.

51. Question – Consumer preference is a difficult area. Only two retailers were represented on the attendee list. It was difficult to engage them but they have the purchasing power to influence standards.

52. Question – Clearer labelling was needed to inform consumer choices. Honest labelling was needed, including pictorial representations. Supermarkets had an important role to play in providing information about the food they sold.

53. Question – Egg Marketing Regs exist for laying hen industry. Every egg was now stamped with the system of production. Other sectors did not have this. The catering and convenience food sectors used a lot of imported product and these needed to be engaged with the welfare arguments.

Open floor.

54. Question – He had been involved with the NFU and Defra in the lead up to the fallen stock scheme. LASSA had offered advice but was largely ignored. There was concern about who will do fallen stock disposal. Untrained individuals might be able to apply, as well as knackermen, hunt kennels and renderers, to deal with live animals on the farm. There must be some form of competency. FAWC response – Recommendations were made in the red meat slaughter report about licensing and training of plant slaughtermen, field professionals and farmers. Only one type of training and licensing was currently available and those using a free bullet required none. These recommendations had not been accepted and FAWC needed support to press Defra to reconsider. These recommendations had direct impact on the fallen stock scheme.

55. Question – Farmers producing livestock also produce other products such as deer velvet, cosmetic bases or ostrich leather that were more valuable than the meat. All products in the Body Shop had written provenance about their constituents. All animal products had a welfare provenance. FAWC response – A simple label could reassure that provenance was acceptable with more detailed information available elsewhere.

56. Question – Consumers will buy on price alone. Half price labels are deliberately large to catch the eye. A provenance label also needed to have some prominence.

57. Progress was being made on animal welfare issues. Over the years there had been many welfare achievements and improvements brought about by FAWC recommendations and the work of all other stakeholders. They may not all have been dramatic but taken together standards of farm animal welfare had been raised significantly over the 25 years of FAWC’s existence. By working together all parties could gradually drive standards forward if they kept communication open.


58. The Chairwoman closed the formal proceedings by inviting attendees to celebrate FAWC’s 25th Anniversary with the members present and continue discussions informally.

FAWC Secretariat

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