Farm Animal Welfare Council
Summary of council meeting on 8 June 2001
1. Judy MacArthur Clark, FAWC Chairwoman, explained that the meeting was an opportunity for the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) to share, with its guests, its work over the last 12 months and its plans for the future. The Council was also seeking feedback from the audience.
2. The outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 continued to have a major impact on everyone connected with the farming industry. It had certainly impacted on the work of the Council. Work on other reports had slowed while FAWC had turned its attentions to the welfare implications arising from the outbreak. The Chairwoman had met with the Minister and FAWC had held an Extraordinary Council meeting, only the second in its history, with Foot and Mouth Disease as its topic. FAWC had set up a Foot and Mouth Disease Task Force of members, which was capable of giving rapid advice to Government, so far on subjects such as vaccination, the 20 day standstill proposals and the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme. Individuals on Council had been directly involved with the outbreak either in planning or on the ground.
3. The Chairwoman said that FAWC would press for a wide ranging review of the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, which would have to include animal welfare, from which lessons must be learnt.
4. The Chairman of the Strategy and Communications Working Group, Mr Tony Gray, described how this new group had evolved from the previous Promotion and Education Group. The group's new remit included strategic development of the Council's business, promoting external relations, proactive communication of initiatives and policies, openness of approach and monitoring of education and training.
5. The Group had been involved over the last year in development of the independent FAWC website (which went live on the day of the Open Meeting), preparation of the Annual Review 2000-2001, attendance at shows and events and planning the Open Meeting.
6. Is FAWC looking at alternatives to the use of animals in agriculture and food, e.g. Soya as opposed to cow's milk? In terms of animal experiments we aim to refine, reduce and replace. FAWC should aim to do the same in agriculture. Response - FAWC's role is to keep under review agricultural production of livestock in terms of welfare, not to seek replacements to animals.
7. The Chairman of the Markets and Transport Working Group, Miss Miriam Parker, reminded the meeting that her group was currently engaged in a study of the livestock market system in Great Britain. Horse sales had more recently been included. Unfortunately, the programme of visits to inform the working group had been suspended due to Foot and Mouth Disease.
8. It was clear that the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease was widened greatly by multiple movements of sheep. Some way had to be found of slowing these movements down. The 20 day standstill for livestock following a movement, as originally proposed by MAFF, might not be the best way forward. Improved enforcement of existing markets and transport legislation, for example, stricter supervision of existing movement records, would probably have made a difference. FAWC would be looking at livestock market operations and livestock marketing post Foot and Mouth Disease with a view to providing advice to Government.
9. Would FAWC like to see an end to the current market system and moves towards video markets and e-sales? Response - While FAWC will look at these emerging marketing methods we are already aware that these alternatives may still produce a system of multiple pick-ups and lengthy transport times, each with their own potential welfare problems.
10. Are there problems with the 20 day standstill proposals with regard to markets and welfare? Response - Council recognises that practical problems exist in relation to being able to continue good husbandry systems under a system as proposed. These need to be addressed effectively in any system aimed at reducing the current level of movements, particularly of sheep.
11. We have long campaigned to improve conditions at Guildford livestock market. Animals were passing through from as far as the Isle of Wight and on to Scotland without sufficient access to water. Guildford market has now closed and the area has been free from Foot and Mouth Disease. Response - FAWC recognised that Foot and Mouth Disease had probably been spread more rapidly and more extensively through multiple marketing and would be addressing this in its comments.
12. The Chairman of the Research and Development Working Group, Dr Martin Potter, told the meeting that the work of his group over the last year had mainly comprised of defining research priorities, reviewing the MAFF 5 year R&D Strategy and identifying the welfare implications of emerging biotechnologies. On this latter point the Council had submitted evidence to the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission and the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Experiments.
13. Dr Potter had also chaired an ad hoc group on the Welfare Implications for Low Value and Surplus Livestock. A report had now been published and was available on the FAWC website. Concerns arose from the increasing numbers of low value animals and the lack of capacity to deal with their disposal. Stricter control of ruminant disposal expected next year would exacerbate the situation. The main recommendation of the report was that a national collection and disposal scheme for surplus livestock be put in place.
14. Does FAWC intend to look at automatic milking machines? Response - FAWC looked at automatic systems in Holland during its study of the welfare of dairy cattle. At the time there were none in GB. When resources allow, the Council may need to re-visit this now that technology has moved on.
15. Has FAWC looked at the increasing proportion of veterinary medicines now containing biotechnology input? Some producer groups are restricting the use of such medicines reducing still further the range available for use. Response - FAWC has raised the effects of development costs for veterinary medicines with Ministers but not resistance to the use of those containing biotechnology input. Could be referred to the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.
16. In its advice on the Welfare Implications for Low Value and Surplus Livestock, why does FAWC call for the establishment of a joint action group to implement its recommendations? Response - FAWC is an advisory body. Implementation of an effective disposal system requires all relevant Departments and the industry to be involved.
17. The Chairman of the Farm Assurance Schemes Working Group, Mr John Don, told the meeting that FAWC's recent change of emphasis from food produced to the food we eat had led to the establishment of a working group to assess the effect on farm animal welfare of farm assurance schemes. This was a very fast moving area. This fact had led the group to prepare an interim report in order to raise the issues it saw as important and seek comments on them before producing a final report.
18. Mr Don pointed out that farm assurance schemes were voluntary, private sector initiatives whose credibility hung on the ability to audit their effectiveness. As a key to this FAWC was addressing the need for objective and measurable welfare criteria. There was a need for research and, when the results of this work were available, transfer of this knowledge to the industry.
19. The question had arisen, how close FAWC should become linked with any farm assurance scheme, for example by checking the welfare criteria at drafting stages. The current stance was that FAWC was an independent advisory body to Government and could not therefore endorse a commercial venture.
20. Does FAWC think that the Poultry Assurance Scheme is adequate in terms of welfare, i.e. the stocking densities stipulated? Response - FAWC will state clearly that all schemes should at least comply with the legislation. It is also very important that any additional welfare claims should be auditable.
21. FAWC's view that we should consider welfare up to the point of the food we eat is very important. We export welfare problems if we accept imported food raised in conditions below those we accept in the UK. How do we ensure imported food is produced to acceptable standards? Response - FAWC will be making these points in its interim report in order to influence the executive bodies making decisions in these areas.
22. The Chairman of the Poultry Issues Working Group, Professor John McInerney, reminded the meeting that his group had been established some 18 months before to review the position on a number of welfare issues relating to poultry which the Council may or may not have addressed in previous reports. Of particular interest over that time had been a poultry registration scheme and broiler leg health.
23. FAWC had recommended a poultry registration scheme in 1998 following concern that there was no accurate database recording the number, location and ownership of holdings where poultry were kept. This recommendation had not been accepted on the basis of minimising regulatory burdens on the industry. A less stringent scheme had instead been proposed by MAFF. FAWC was not convinced this would improve matters but would monitor progress.
24. FAWC's 1992 Report on the Welfare of Broiler Chickens had called for the industry to work towards a reduction in the unacceptable level of leg weakness in broilers. An industry study to establish the magnitude of the problem was undertaken over the next 7 years. Full statistical analysis and publication of the results was still awaited. Council was concerned that the survey findings available so far suggested no major improving trends despite industry efforts. Because of continuing uncertainty FAWC had also called for a definitive study of the extent and causes of leg health problems. Proposals from MAFF were being assessed. Industry had agreed to work with Government sponsored researchers on the new study.
25. Professor McInerney recognised that there were many other poultry welfare issues that the group needed to address. Examples included broiler stocking density, skeletal health of laying hens, treatment of spent hens, enriched cages and free range conditions.
26. FAWC is obviously unhappy with the pace of improvement of broiler leg health. The definitive study proposed will take more time to produce results. What can you press on with now? Response - FAWC feels that the study need not necessarily be lengthy in terms of time to results which can be applied. We will also attempt to achieve a resolution between conflicting data on the magnitude of the problem.
27. An Industry representative said that the study had taken a number of years to complete. Public confirmation of the level of leg problems was required and the delay in statistical analysis and publication was unfortunate. The broiler industry supported the proposed definitive study which could be speeded up by incorporating with an ongoing study.
28. The Chairman of the Slaughter Working Group, Mrs Jo Turnbull, reported that her group had, since the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, spent much of its time addressing welfare issues arising out of the large scale slaughter operations in the field that were happening as a result. Visits to slaughterhouses in the pursuit of its own study of the welfare of livestock (red meat animals) at slaughter had been suspended due to the outbreak but it was hoped to resume these when the disease conditions allowed.
29. Will FAWC look at poultry slaughter once it has completed its study of red meat slaughter? Response - Council confirmed this would be the case.
30. It was pointed out from the floor that Halal slaughter ensured total drainage of blood from the body. This was very important to the Muslim community for hygiene purposes.
31. What evidence is required to support a prosecution for problems with field slaughter? Would FAWC press for enforcement action where evidence exists? Response - FAWC is not an investigation agency but would support enforcement of the law.
32. Concerns were expressed from the floor about the need for labelling of meat produced by Halal slaughter methods, whether pre-stunned or not. Response - FAWC Slaughter Group has still to visit Halal slaughterhouse so is unable to comment in detail. The issue of clear and transparent labelling has been raised with the Food Standards Agency.
33. Comment came from the floor that labelling of processed foods presented difficulties if trying to trace components.
34. What is the state of play with mobile slaughterhouses? Response - Council is not aware that any are in use at present in this country. The FMD outbreak may increase the impetus behind the project in terms of lack of local slaughter capacity and field killing, although biosecurity could be an issue.
35. A comment came from the floor to the effect that clearing markets for 24 hours would not be an effective method of disease control, improved disinfection procedures would help more. Lairage facilities would be lost with the 24 hour proposal leading to longer transport times and therefore poorer welfare.
36. A member of the audience asserted that public concern about animal welfare was peaking with the FMD outbreak. A proposal should be made to the new Government that progress be pursued on welfare improvement, e.g. phase out cages for laying hens, and promote local slaughter and therefore local transport. Response - FAWC will be discussing urgent welfare issues with the new administration during the coming few months.
37. The view was expressed by a member of the audience that pre-slaughter stunning should not be allowed in Halal slaughter. Stunning prevented full bleed out and led to toxicity of the flesh.
38. Does FAWC consider the environmental impact of its welfare recommendations? Response - although FAWC must focus on welfare, environmental factors are taken into account when formulating recommendations.
39. Happy to hear that FAWC takes into account other issues when drawing up its welfare recommendations. Single issue policies are worrying. Response - FAWC focuses on welfare but retains a broad perspective.
40. Why are independent abattoir inspectors to be replaced over the next 18 months with company appointed inspectors? Response from the floor by a member of MHS staff - MHS-employed Official Veterinary Surgeon is responsible for welfare at slaughter. 100% veterinary presence should ensure good welfare at slaughter inspection remains. Company inspectors will cover meat hygiene.
41. What were the levels of welfare problems due to lack of fodder that led to an application under the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme (LWDS)? Response - No figures available but FAWC believes that the timely provision of fodder could, in some cases, have prevented the need to cull the herd.
42. Was the LWDS oversubscribed? Response - FAWC are advised that the problem was large numbers of applications preventing effective prioritisation of welfare cases to ensure the most pressing were dealt with first.
43. EU legislation will mean the phasing out of cages for laying hens by 2012. What is FAWC's view of enriched cages in the meantime? Response - FAWC Laying Hens Report identified enriched cages as potentially better than a barren cage. Need to look again in view of the developmental nature of enriched cages seen then and the facilities available now.
44. A view expressed from the floor was that enriched cages would never be able to provide litter. At best they were a minimal improvement on a barren cage.
45. An industry representative said that FAWC would be interested to know that more research and development work was being put into enriched cages.
46. Comment came from the audience that inspections of lairages and collection centres should be made unannounced to get a correct picture of their operation.
47. The loss of lambs to starvation and exposure each year is an appalling loss of life (Approx. 4 million per year). The effects were masked by FMD this year. FAWC should address the issue. Response - FAWC will look further into this issue.
48. A member of the audience said that MAFF employees at all levels should have an adequate knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry. Quicker handling of
FMD issues would have resulted.
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