Farm Animal Welfare Council


Summary of open meeting on 9 July 2008

Welcome and opening remarks

1.         Professor Wathes, the Chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) welcomed everyone and explained that the purpose of the meeting was to offer an update on the work of the Council, which is committed to openness, fairness and transparency.    

2.         FAWC’s communications policy is to seek written and oral evidence on particular topics and to gauge reaction on proposed advice. Stakeholder views relating to farm animal welfare were taken into account when formulating advice.  The Council routinely consults with over 600 stakeholders. Summaries of Council minutes are published and printed copies of its reports are available but its most important means of communication is through its website (

3.         The Council offers neutral, unbiased, advice and will engage with the media when that advice is published but does not become embroiled in public debate on farm animal welfare generally. It recognises the need for a guardian of farm animal welfare and fulfils this role in part through its advice to Government. It is not a campaigning body and is bound to a specific work programme outlined in its strategic plan.  FAWC works in pursuance of the Government objective of improving animal welfare for kept animals. 

4.         Professor Wathes reviewed progress since the last FAWC open meeting.  The Council had released its report on Stockmanship in 2007, just released a report on the Implications of Castration and Tail Docking for the Welfare of Lambs, and is working on four other topics.  Next year it will start work on advice concerning the welfare implications of the diseases of farm animals.  Last November the Council published its opinion on the beak trimming of laying hens which caused some controversy. Beak trimming will be banned in the EU with effect from December 2010 but the industry is not prepared adequately for this.  FAWC advised that the ban should be delayed otherwise there will be an increase in mortality due to injurious pecking.  The Opinion received some criticism and the Government has asked FAWC to review its advice next year, taking account of industry and research developments. Other topics for forthcoming study include lameness in sheep, environmental enrichment of pigs and farm animal welfare in the event of natural disasters and disease epidemics.    

FAWC Report on the Implications of Castration and Tail Docking for the Welfare of Lambs

5.         Mr Davies introduced the report. The number of lambs affected by castration and tail docking were substantial in Great Britain. The 1994 report on the Welfare of Sheep said that more research needed to be focussed on the pain associated with these procedures.  Defra had supported work on this issue at two Universities and the results were considered in the preparation of the report.

6.         The reasons for castration are to prevent unwanted breeding, aggression and the devaluation of the carcass due to taint. Tail docking helps to prevent fly-strike; a particularly debilitating condition.  It is clear that management systems on a farm play a key role in determining whether castration and tail-docking are required There is widespread consensus that both procedures cause pain and distress, although tail docking causes less pain. There is currently no licensed anaesthetic nor practical, effective means of its delivery. 

7.         The first recommendation in the report states that “All parties concerned should work towards the ideal situation where all male lambs are either not castrated, or where this is necessary, castrated using pain relief.” If lambs are to be castrated this should be agreed with the farm’s vet as part of the health and welfare plan. This is often demanded by retailers in any case.  The report also calls for research to be directed towards practical methods of pain relief. Mr Davies informed the meeting that he had already received enquiries from retailers as to how this could be best achieved.  Contrary to some press reports, FAWC has not suggested that the practices should be banned, or sought for retailers to demand this.

8.         Mr Peel Holroyd – Peel Holroyd Associates: Asked what percentage of the lamb flock suffers or is at risk and what were the risks in terms of eating quality. FAWC reply:  Approximately 50% of male lambs are castrated and so suffer from lack of pain relief.  Studies on castration and meat quality do not bear out the claim about meat taint in lambs.  The incidence of flystrike in lambs that are tail docked reduces from 7% to 1.5% and so in balancing suffering arising from tail docking against that from flystrike it is an ethical decision whether to tail dock all sheep.  

9.         Ms Rita Bloomberg – Vega: Commended the report and also the Chairman’s interview on the BBC’s Farming Today programme. With no effective pain relief had FAWC considered orally administered analgesia?  A comparison should be made with companion animals – farm animals should be given the same amount of respect and should be administered pain relief. FAWC reply:  There had been some research done on the efficacy of topically and orally administered pain relief but these do not work well. The best solution was the needle-less injector but this needed further engineering development to make a practical device that could work on a farm.  FAWC agreed that farm animals should have the same level of pain relief as companion animals but, at the moment, there is no practical means of delivery.

10.       Mr Peter Morris – National Sheep Association:   Agreed that the first recommendation was a good aspiration (paragraph 99 of the report). He said there was a risk of mis-mothering if the procedures were undertaken at a young age. The report also carried a good message to Defra/RPA who had not taken account of the problem of mis-mothering and had penalised some hill farmers for carrying out the practices too late. The construction of the rubber rings needed to be better and to an agreed standard. Fly-strike is becoming more common. The current law allows a range of options, including tail docking and dipping, to limit the damage but parts of this “armoury” are being taken away. A suitable local anaesthetic needs to be licensed for sheep. FAWC reply: Thanked Mr Morris for his supportive comments. There is a recommendation in the report relating to the manufacture of rubber rings (paragraph 108).

11.       Ms Joanne Nash – Worcestershire County Council: Agreed that fly-strike was more common and that the condition affects sheep very quickly and so there is a need for constant vigilance. She agreed that every sentient being needed pain relief but farms would not be able to afford the expense of local anaesthetic. On castration she suggested that there would be practical problems of applying the rubber ring and administering a local anaesthetic when most farms were run by single operators. Farmers would need adequate training which could be included in the veterinary health plan. FAWC reply: FAWC emphasised the importance of training in its Stockmanship report (2007).

Long Term Welfare Strategy

12.       Professor Wathes said that FAWC’s report on the on the Long Term Welfare Strategy for farm animals would be released next year. The report will look back to the 1965 Brambell Report and ask what should, could and ought to have been done since. Some things have been done well but there are some lingering problems. The report will consider the legislative and market forces affecting welfare and whether farm animals have a life worth living. It will celebrate the positive experiences of animals that have been achieved in the last forty years. The study will be far sighted and look at farm animal welfare twenty five years into the future.

13.       Ms Marjorie Pooley – Winchester Animal Concern: Asked for FAWC’s views on zero grazing systems for cattle and goats. FAWC Reply: The strategy report would not go into that level of detail. There are some examples of good welfare in such systems but there are also poor zero grazing systems.  This is an area that FAWC has not studied in great detail and does not yet have definitive answers.

14.       Dr Alan Long – Vega:  Said that the Food Standards Agency is trying to connect farming to fork and this initiative has shown that consumers and supermarkets are demanding better farming systems. He asked what advice FAWC could give concerning the farmer/badger/cow. He noted that the EU is encouraging milk production but, from a nutritional viewpoint, consumers should be cutting their consumption of milk products.  FAWC reply: FAWC appreciates that the power of the concerned consumer has not yet been realised except in the case of eggs. FAWC would like to see consumers make more informed choices and to aid this, education is needed from childhood in issues of farm animal welfare and clear welfare labelling of products. In relation to TB and badgers, FAWC’s remit does not cover wild animals. The Animal Welfare Advisory Bodies Liaison Group has made recommendations for a body to cover the welfare of wild animals.

The Economics of Welfare

15.       Professor Edwards said that FAWC had formed a working group to examine the interrelationship between farm animal welfare and economic issues. Work started last year with a written consultation followed up with stakeholder meetings in September. The group heard from those on the production side that economic pressures do not allow them to innovate or invest in welfare improvements. Higher welfare can be an additional cost to farmers and the working group are considering whether these costs can be supported through the supply chain. If there is no mechanism for support through market economics then animal welfare should be seen as a public good and the Government should intervene.   However, market premia or subsidies could distort the domestic market causing production, and welfare problems, to be exported. The working group will be considering the impact of the production chain and any relevant consumer studies and how the value of farm animal welfare can be realised in a market scenario. It was noted that the OIE had recently started to develop standards for animal welfare.  The group expects to be reporting during the spring/summer of 2010.               

16.       Mr Peel Holroyd – Peel Holroyd Associates: Asked if domestic prices rose as a result of increased welfare would it not be easier to import products. FAWC Reply: The FAWC report will consider what can be done in the event of market failure.

17.       Mr Peter Morris – National Sheep Association: Said that he was concerned about welfare adding to farm costs and asked FAWC to consider what could be done to decrease these. FAWC reply: Conscious that welfare has benefits and costs at farm level. It is possible that the performance of individual animals may increase but that a system may not be more profitable.  Professor Wathes referred to the letter that had just been sent to the Scottish Minister, Richard Lochhead, on the differences in pig welfare between GB pigs and imported pigs.  Good labelling was needed to allow producers to gain adequate reward for improvements in animal welfare. 

Slaughter of white meat species

18.       Mr Henderson said this report would be covering chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, game birds and rabbits (although there are very few rabbits slaughtered in the UK). FAWC has considered the available scientific evidence, consulted experts, and visited farms and slaughterhouses. FAWC hopes to produce a balanced report with the animals’ interests to the fore and will be producing recommendations for the short, medium and long term. There will be a stakeholder meeting in August where an indication of the recommendations in the report will be given to allow FAWC to gauge reactions.

19.       The report will cover the catching and loading of poultry on farm, transport, the stunning and killing processes, emergency killing for disease purposes, and the disposal of day old chicks. Large numbers of meat chickens (approximately 850,000,000 per year) are slaughtered with line speeds of up to 10,000 birds per hour in some slaughterhouses.  It was important that poultry should be treated as sentient beings and not as commodities, so effective monitoring systems are essential. The working group looked for considerate catching, fitness to travel and the use of competent personnel. The report will also address the welfare of end of lay hens.

20.       The report will make recommendations concerning live shackling, which is necessary for water bath stunning systems. FAWC is not in favour of live shackling, which is painful for birds, and would like to see the industry addressing this issue.  

21.       Controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) is also used where high concentrations of carbon dioxide or other gases are administered. The benefit of CAS is that birds do not have to be inverted and shackled and this is particularly beneficial for end-of-lay hens and heavier birds that are more likely to suffer during shackling (90% of turkeys are slaughtered using CAS in the UK). The working group has looked at on farm systems of slaughter including whole house gassing in the case of disease outbreaks and more research is required into these methods. The report should be ready later this year.

22.       Mr Jeremy Hall – Bernard Matthews: Surprised that the British Poultry Council’s Processing Committee had not seen FAWC in connection with the report. FAWC reply: The working group has had extensive contact with the industry, including the British Poultry Council, and visited a number of key players.  There will be further opportunity for stakeholder engagement in August.

General questions and discussion

23.       Ms Joyce D’Silva – Compassion in World Farming:  CIWF consider enriched cages for laying hens to be unacceptable. The birds do not have a comfortable nesting area and do not have freedom to express natural behaviour. FAWC reply: Recognise the need for the highest standards of husbandry but also accept that farming is a legitimate business. It is a pragmatic decision to accept enriched cages but recognised that the standards of stockmanship are key to the welfare standards of all systems.   

24.       Dr Julia Wrathall – RSPCA: Referred to FAWC’s letter to the Scottish Minster on the welfare of pigs in Scotland and said there were some positive aspects to the UK setting higher welfare standards. A section of European producers had moved away from stalls to supply the UK market. FAWC reply: Appreciated this but it is up to buyers to set specifications to suppliers to satisfy the demands of UK consumers.

25.       Mr Peter Morris – National Sheep Association: Said that breeding technologies were moving very rapidly and shortly the genome for sheep will be mapped. He asked what FAWC was doing in this area. FAWC reply: FAWC appointed a breeding specialist this year whose specific brief will be to look at topical breeding issues (breeding for resistance for example) including those for sheep, cattle and poultry.

26.       Ms Marjorie Pooley – Winchester Animal Concern: Asked if slaughtermen were still on piece work. FAWC reply: Understood that the industry is now mainly salaried.

27.       Ms Joanne Nash – Worcestershire County Council: Said that some farmers had become licensed to slaughter casualty cattle. However the training, licensing procedures and guidance were not good enough and this needs to be addressed. Ms Miriam Parker: Agreed that problems were often caused by a poor choice of implements and insufficient skill.  FAWC reply: This issue was addressed in the FAWC reports on Foot and Mouth Disease and the Red Meat Slaughter but appreciated that it was an area of concern. FAWC could advise Ministers on this subject if it was a significant issue.

28.       Ms Rebecca Pearson – Country Life Magazine: Said that consumers were becoming more interested in farm animal welfare but still bought according to price and asked how they could be educated. FAWC reply: Education on animal welfare should start with schoolchildren and be part of the national curriculum, and there should be more information at the point of sale. FAWC had produced a report on welfare labelling in 2006 and this is an area now being examined in the EU.

29.       Mick Sloyan - BPEX:  Defra are sponsoring a public food procurement initiative and  suggested that FAWC should encourage Defra to write welfare standards into that procurement.   FAWC reply: The FAWC Farm Assurance report stated that the Government should show leadership in procurement for welfare friendly products.

30.       Ms Laura Biddick Bray – Lantra:  Said that Lantra is working to address the issues of training and development and the image of the industry. FAWC reply: The FAWC report on Stockmanship emphasised the importance of education and training for the welfare of farm animals.   .  


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