Farm Animal Welfare Council
Summary of open meeting on 30 June 2005
Welcome and opening remarks
1. Professor Wathes, Chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), welcomed everyone. He reminded the meeting that FAWC’s remit was to advise Government in England, Scotland and Wales on farm animal welfare issues. All the diverse views held by attendees were welcome in this forum. He thanked Dr Judy MacArthur Clark, his predecessor, and Professor John McInerney, Gareth Lloyd and James Hook, FAWC members having stood down at the end of 2004, for their contributions to the Council’s work.
2. The Chairman said that FAWC had recently been through a very busy time with 8 Working Groups developing reports and advice. Much of this work was now coming to fruition with two reports published today and more reports and advice to Ministers due in the second half of 2005. A large number of responses to consultation and advice to Government from the year leading up to this Open Meeting were described in the Annual Review for 2004-2005, which had also been recently released, and was available to view on FAWC’s Website (www.fawc.org.uk).
3. Plans were being laid for FAWC’s future work with the establishment of three Standing Committees to keep under review the welfare of Ruminants; Pigs, Poultry and Fish; and Ethics, Economics and Legislation. These would keep a watching brief on the issues, picking up those with highest priority, producing short reports and advice to Ministers and leading on consultations. Once the current work had been concluded, a more manageable 2-3 working groups would be set up at any one time to address major topics leading to FAWC Reports.
4. Once current working groups on Stockmanship, Lamb castration and tail docking, Welfare labelling and Slaughter of white meat species had begun to deliver their advice a consultation period would begin looking to future priority work that FAWC should engage with. Examples of suggested topics were the welfare of beef cattle, welfare implications of endemic diseases, assessment and measurement of welfare parameters and mental well-being, but more suggestions from attendees would be very welcome.
5. One new working group already identified would look strategically at the future of farm animal welfare in the UK over the next 10-20 years. It would assess where existing standards stood, where they had come from and where standards should be in the future. The group would be Chaired by Professor David Morton and would be consulting widely.
6. A letter seeking nominations for new appointees to FAWC would be sent to a wide range of stakeholders in August and would also be placed on FAWC and Government Websites. FAWC would be seeking an animal welfare scientist; a beef, dairy or sheep farmer; and a lay member without vested interests in farming or related industries. Working on FAWC provided an excellent opportunity to serve the cause of farm animal welfare in a public capacity.
7. Miriam Parker introduced the first report published today. The Report on the Welfare of Farmed Animals at Gatherings had been the result of very long deliberations. A report had largely been drafted prior to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001. Afterwards, the Council decided that the study should take a wider look at farm animal gatherings, since the elements of animal transport, delivery, care and handling were present at all gatherings. A changing regime of animal disease and EU transport legislation also promoted further study. The report did not compare the relative merits of the different gatherings as tools for marketing animals but focussed very much on the welfare of the animals involved.
8. The content of the report was split into the welfare principles common to all gatherings, the legal framework surrounding various gatherings and specific issues relating to markets, other gatherings of farm animals, shows and exhibitions and horse gatherings. Each gathering was assessed in terms of the people involved, animal care and handling, facilities provided and the enforcement and supervision in place.
9. The key recommendations in the report were:
10. Roger Ewbank – Elm Farm Research Centre: Did the report cover shows and poultry? FAWC reply: Shows and exhibitions had their own chapter in the report. However, the report had not addressed gatherings of poultry and minor species as these were being addressed in the proposed Animal Welfare Bill.
11. Masood Khawaja – Halal Food Authority: Did the report consider the export of animals from the EU to the Middle East in poor conditions? FAWC reply: It was to be hoped that the new EU transport legislation would deliver improvements but FAWC would monitor its implementation.
12. Rita Bloomberg – Vegetarian Economy and Green Agricultural Research (VEGA): FAWC’s recommendation that water be provided when animals are not engaged in an activity of the market was to be welcomed. Markets did not currently give access to water unless animals were thirsty and this was a subjective assessment. Could legislation require access to water? FAWC reply: This was FAWC’s recommendation to Government and the EU transport legislation already went some way toward requiring it.
13. Marjorie Pooley – Winchester Animal Concern: Animals should have shade in hot weather. FAWC reply: Believe this is already a requirement of the current legislation.
14. John Thorley – National Sheep Association: Costs to the industry will rise if FAWC’s recommendations are implemented. Has FAWC considered the economic impact on the industry? Producers are reducing in number, increasing the animal to stockman ratio and placing animal welfare at risk. FAWC reply: FAWC’s primary role is to advise Ministers on animal welfare. Government will consider the recommendations put to it and consult widely, likely with an impact appraisal. Council recognised that it needed to be aware of the economics of agriculture when researching each report and this in itself might form a future subject of study.
15. Chris Dodds – Livestock Auctioneers Association: Expressed disappointment that recommendations were made in the report on topics that were not supported by scientific evidence. The Report would be submitted to Defra, which had no understanding of the market industry. A third of businesses in the sector had been lost since 1996, with BSE and Foot and Mouth Disease having huge impacts. Despite this, throughput of animals at markets was increasing indicating the farmers choice to market animals in this way. There were some good recommendations in FAWC’s Report but there were some that could negatively impact on a fragile industry. FAWC reply: Recognise that there was very little science relating specifically to markets but FAWC had addressed what existed. Defra was now commissioning more. Science, part funded by the LAA, indicated that animals in a market would drink given access to water. FAWC’s considerations were based on science but also on the experience and knowledge of members and those consulted and visits to the systems being studied.
16. John Don said that this was another report with a lengthy period of study behind it. It addressed a complicated and ever changing subject. FAWC had been very careful in its thinking, being aware of the fragility of the livestock industry and of the assurance sector. Assurance meant the provision of dependable information about a product relating to particular characteristics. Animal welfare was the characteristic addressed by the Report published today. Consumers were increasingly concerned about the provenance of the food they purchased for characteristics over and above price and availability. The length of the food chain required that information about these characteristics be provided by a mechanism such as assurance.
17. The report reviewed the accreditation and certification process with a strong recommendation that opportunities within CAP and WTO be taken.
18. Assessment and audit of the welfare component of farm assurance schemes was addressed, with an appendix providing information about scientific methods of assessment. Scheme owners should be encouraged to look at animal based parameters and outcomes as well as inputs to the system required to maintain good welfare conditions. Key to the effectiveness of schemes were knowledgeable and experienced assessors and this would be more important still when measuring outcomes for the animals. The presence of unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress at an inspection should lead to a major non-compliance with consequent immediate action or sanctions applied.
19. On supply side assurance the reactions of producers, that schemes were accepted and appreciated, were encouraging. Assurance needed to meet customers’ requirements and demonstrate the quality of their products.
20. The report stressed the importance of stockmanship and management to the welfare of animals and pressed the case for producers to engage positively in health and welfare planning, with veterinary support. Low value animals should also benefit from assurance.
21. Organic farming standards were objectively compared with farm assurance schemes in terms of their ability to deliver animal welfare outcomes. The organic sector had been active in assessing its standards and promoting these since the interim farm assurance report was published in 2001. FAWC recognised the welfare advantage of applying some organic standards but still had some concerns about disease and parasite challenge. New entrants to this sector would need particular monitoring and help.
22. Consideration of the demand side of assurance indicated that the retailers and food service sector had a major role to play. Welfare assurance was aimed primarily at the consumer but these organisations had powerful positions of influence in the food chain with which should go responsibility to lead, influence and inform. Government had a responsibility to welfare assurance in its public procurement policy. Consumer organisations could also take a more active role in stating what it was that consumers required from food retailers, processors and the restaurant sector. Ultimately, the responsibility fell on all in the food chain, from farmer to consumer, to ensure that full chain farm assurance delivered welfare benefits.
23. Mr Don thanked all the stakeholders and FAWC members who had been involved in the production of the report and the Secretariat for support and assistance with drafting.
24. Rita Bloomberg – VEGA: Welcomed the recommendation that low value animals should be protected by farm assurance schemes. Bobby calves were often emaciated and stressed at market. FAWC reply: The proposed responsibility of the operator for welfare of animals at the market would clarify the action needed in these cases. Clearer definitions of unfitness would also help. EU transport regulations were looking to higher ages for transport, and therefore presence at market. With markets also embracing assurance such issues would also be covered in scheme standards.
25. Charlotte Buckhaven – Studham Technologies Ltd: We have developed the humane crustacean killer for slaughterhouse and kitchen use. Will slaughter be covered by assurance standards? FAWC reply: If farm assurance is to be meaningful then it must cover the whole food chain from farm to market via transport and on to slaughter.
26. Timothy Drew – Land Based Training (LANTRA): Training needs are covered in both reports. Will there be any specific recommendations? FAWC reply: FAWC consistently emphasises the need for training to ensure people are in a position to care for animals properly. The stockmanship report, of which more later, would major on training provision.
27. Geoff Hollis: Has written about concerns he has about the welfare of animals on organic farms, particularly in relation to homeopathic treatments. He had offered £1000 for scientific evidence of the efficacy of homeopathic treatments but had not had an answer. Who was recommendation 127 aimed at? FAWC reply: FAWC recommendations were, unless specifically directed, submitted to Government which would, in its response, identify the partners it saw sharing responsibility for these issues.
28. Peter Morrison – National Sheep Association: In WTO negotiations should not minimum animal welfare standards be a prerequisite? FAWC reply: The report took a pragmatic view recognising that WTO discussions will take a long time and that getting animal welfare introduced in the first place would be a step forward. FAWC would like to see standards equivalent to UK assurance applicable in WTO in the future. Leadership from the retailers, food service sector and Government in promoting welfare assurance would help with this ambition.
29. Gillian van der Meer – Women’s Food and Farming Union: The proactive role of the consumer organisations called for should be to press Government to negotiate high welfare standards into EU and global trading conditions. FAWC reply: FAWC recognises the global market and calls on those with the biggest powerbase in the food chain, retailers, food service sector and Government, to use their influence to promote welfare standards.
30. Michael Green – Soil Association: Welcomed the report and the chapter on the organic sector. Organic production hits 4 out of the 5 freedoms. Criticisms aimed at organic farming are lacking in scientific evidence. A recent study saw no increase in disease in organic systems. FAWC reply: Recognise the welfare potential of organic farming but retain the caveats expressed in the report.
31. John McInerney – Ex-member of FAWC: Excellent report. How does FAWC expect to get a response and progress on recommendations aimed specifically at retailers and the food service sector? FAWC reply: It is to be hoped that recommendations aimed beyond the Government would be endorsed in the Government response and pressure would emanate from this and other directions.
32. Rita Bloomberg – VEGA: Labelling is briefly mentioned in this report. Will the welfare labelling report cover all stages of production? FAWC reply: Report to come from Michael Reiss will cover this.
33. Dr Martin Potter reported that the R&D Group had been largely concerned with the welfare aspects of lamb castration and tail docking. Interest in this area for FAWC went back to its 1994 Report on the Welfare of Sheep, which had called for research into the pain and trauma involved. In the intervening period a substantial body of scientific evidence had been built up which FAWC was considering in order to reach conclusions on advice to pass to Government. The Group had met with the science groups and other stakeholders to discuss the possible direction of advice.
34. Without setting out in detail the recommendations that the Group were considering Dr Potter put forward some of the main arguments coming forward from their discussions. Firstly, producers should look to the necessity of castrating male lambs at all. The 1994 Report had carried this message, which had been followed up in the welfare code. The scale of the problem was that some 10 million ram lambs were castrated every year (with twice that number tail docked). Any reduction in the numbers of animals subjected to these painful operations would be welcome. The Group had met with the MLC and producers and put this to them. There seemed few outstanding arguments about meat quality if lambs were slaughtered within a year. Some producers even used the lack of castration as a marketing opportunity, although this relied on good facilities and management. It was recognised that for many extensive systems such levels of control would prove difficult.
35. A general conclusion from the body of research was that castration and tail docking were painful whatever method was used. Acute pain was present for 4-6 hours afterwards with every likelihood of long term chronic pain (although this was less easy to quantify). Evidence indicated that pain associated with tail docking was more variable. Experts had made strong statements to the Group about the need for local anaesthesia. Delivery developments were encouraging with needleless technology coming forward but needing realistic timescales before production models arrived.
36. Advice was likely to restate the 1994 position that surgical castration was the worst method and should be considered a veterinary operation. The time limits established for the use of rubber rings may have been based on erroneous beliefs that infants feel less pain than older animals. It might be recommended that the age of application be extended or an upper weight limit considered.
37. Work on the Group’s advice was coming to a close but still needed to be debated by Council as a whole. The Group was keen that recommendations be supported by the science but also that they be workable in the practical reality of sheep farming systems.
38. The Report on the Welfare Implications of Breeding and Breeding Technologies in Commercial Agriculture launched at last year’s Open meeting had been well received. The main recommendation had called for a body to look at breeding issues and advise Government. Government was yet to respond to the Report but it had been endorsed by a working group of welfare advisory bodies that included the Companion Animal Welfare Council and the Animals Procedures Committee.
39. Masood Khawaja – Halal Food Authority: Why should animals need to be castrated? Could a vasectomy be performed? Halal meat must come from animals that are not injured, Muslim communities were probably not be fully aware of the practice of castration. FAWC reply: It would be impossible to vasectomise 10 million ram lambs in practical farming systems. The reasons given for doing it were unwanted breeding, aggression and taste issues. The first two could be managed and it was uncertain that the latter was a problem.
40. Peter Morrison – National Sheep Association: Was not the application of local anaesthesia the preserve of the veterinary surgeon? FAWC reply: A practical method of application that farmers could use in the field was required, even if this required a change to the law.
41. Rev. Professor Michael Reiss said that a Group had been established to address the need for and practicalities of labelling to establish the animal welfare provenance of livestock products. Labelling could enable the consumer to base choices on welfare parameters and as a result could potentially raised welfare standards. It needed to be kept in mind that food labelling was an EU occupied field, requiring the agreement of all Member States for mandatory systems. There were also WTO issues relating to bars to trade.
42. Whole life welfare experience would be very complex to express on a label in a standardised manner. Questions included: could sufficient information go on a label or would supporting information be needed at point of sale, in leaflets or on Websites? What effect would this have on price? If welfare labelling were to be applied then should it apply to livestock products on the shelf, to processed products or all the way to the food service sector?
43. Andy McGowan – Quality Meat Scotland: Looks forward to assurance labels being promoted.
44. Professor Peter English noted that FAWC always highlighted stockmanship as being vital to animal welfare but had not gone into the detail of how this should be nurtured or developed until now. A group had been established to delve in to the detail in response to the economic pressure on the agricultural community discussed earlier. Reducing numbers of carers were looking after larger numbers of animals. Social and economic stresses on farmers and stockpeople were causing recruitment and retention problems in the industry. Breakdown in succession from generation to generation of farmers and stockpeople was now noticeable. Those taking on the previous generation’s responsibilities had traditionally had a long apprenticeship in contact with animals but this was less so with new entrants to the industry.
45. A written consultation and a number of meetings with stakeholders had brought out the issues for the Group to consider. These included the economic challenges to animal care; provision of training and education (including the need to transfer knowledge from research to maximise return on investment in science); access to funding for education and training being a difficult and beaurocratic exercise; the difficulties faced by microbusinesses such as livestock enterprises (60% sole traders and only 2% with over 10 employees) in accessing training; the need for industry leadership; and the need to get vets involved in practical health and welfare planning on farm under the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy. Professor English thanked all the stakeholders who had and would help the Group understand the issues.
46. John Thorley – National Sheep Association: Thanked the Stockmanship Group for the opportunity to comment on this vital area of influence on animal welfare.
47. Rita Bloomberg – VEGA: Will FAWC recommend specific training on the physiology and cognition of animals? How can stockpeople get time away from work for training? FAWC reply: Agree that stockpeople need a wide knowledge of animals in order to understand their needs. There was a need for continuous training provision and the motivation to take it up. Training provision needed to be flexible enough to enable busy and often sole operators to take part and feel it was relevant to them, e.g. tailored on farm training.
48. Gillian van der Meer – Womens’ Food and Farming Union: Group could address the age of people entering agricultural courses. 14 year olds were now able to go on day release to agricultural colleges in place of GCSE courses. At 16 they could then progress to a full time course. FAWC reply: Thanked Ms van der Meer for raising this possible route for early education in stockmanship, which the Group would follow up. More use of such a route could assist agricultural colleges with funds shortages.
49. Timothy Drew – LANTRA: There are lots of projects at school age such as this in Scotland and Wales providing agricultural training at NVQ level. Would there be any chance of an interim report that could help LANTRA advise Government on agricultural sector training by October? FAWC reply: FAWC would investigate how it could help LANTRA provide this advice.
50. Glenn Berry – Somerset County Council Trading Standards: In its 1992 Report on the Welfare of Broiler Chickens FAWC had called the levels of leg weakness in the industry unacceptable and called on industry to make improvements. Was Council happy with progress? In the course of his work he had recently seen a lot of foot lesion problems. FAWC reply: FAWC did monitor the industry survey completed some time ago but publication in a peer reviewed journal had not yet happened. A downward trend in the preliminary data had been welcomed but a great deal of variability in the data suggested that there were still leg problems to tackle. A Defra funded research project on the extent and causes of leg problems in broilers being conducted at the University of Bristol should report in the next few months. FAWC members had been involved on the project steering committee. Defra input: David Pritchard said that broiler leg health was a very complex issue. The industry survey had shown a small improvement in gait scores but variability in the data showed that problems were still outstanding. The Bristol study would provide more information on contributory factors leading to poor leg health. Professor Marian Dawkins’ had conducted the biggest ever animal welfare study with data on over 2½ million broilers. She had shown that a complex range of management factors had a significant effect on leg health as well as other animal welfare outcomes. The UK Presidency of the EU began on 1 July during which the UK intended to guide the proposed Broiler Directive through to completion. The Directive sought to define inputs to the system including management and environment, but it also looked at outcomes for the birds involved using measures such as mortality and foot condition. This would hopefully give the Government and industry in partnership methods of measuring welfare and moving standards forward.
51. Rita Bloomberg – VEGA: CIWF have indicated that laying hens kept at high stocking densities had more disease challenge. Could stocking density go on a welfare label? FAWC reply: The question of how much data could be represented on a label was still under discussion.
53. Dr Pinder Gill – Meat and Livestock Commission: Animal welfare research in the UK is under pressure. Is Council concerned? FAWC reply: The UK leads the world in farm animal welfare research and development but there was pressure from other sectors on some funders of research. BBSRC had recently announced an investment of £8 million in animal welfare research. Defra funded £2 million a year with smaller sums coming from the Scottish and Welsh administrations. FAWC had asked Defra’s chief scientist for reassurance about animal welfare research capabilities because of the closure of animal welfare teams at Silsoe and Roslin Research Institutes and been told that bidding for projects remained healthy. There were some concerns still in Council about the partitioning of research funding with large amounts devoted to TSEs and much less aimed at endemic disease and a focus on pure research at the expense of application and development. Some farsighted industry sectors were also taking part in welfare research, such as the British Pig Association review of research in their area being followed up with investment.
54. Marjorie Pooley – Winchester Animal Concern: To make Council aware that Sparsholt College had updated its facilities for livestock.
55. Julian Sparrey: Would the FAWC Slaughter Group address emergency slaughter on farm in its current study or as a specific study, particularly in light of the experience of foot and mouth disease and the threat of avian influenza? FAWC reply: Emergency slaughter for disease purposes would be covered in the White meat slaughter report, but not in great detail. FAWC had published a report on the foot and mouth disease outbreak and would be responding to Defra’s consultation on measures to deal with avian influenza.
56. Masood Khawaja – Halal Food Authority: It was difficult to define welfare easily, what did FAWC think it meant? FAWC reply: It might simply be defined as the life experience of an animal in terms of its physical and mental wellbeing. Other definitions did abound but it was very difficult to measure welfare objectively. Further work in this area needed to be done. The Future of Animal Welfare in the UK study would need to take this into account.
|Last modified 22 August, 2005|
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