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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2002 and Draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Laying Hens and Meat Chickens and Breeding Chickens

Fifth Standing Committee on

Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 12 June 2002

Mr. Win Griffiths

Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2002

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2002.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Laying Hens, and the draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Meat Chickens and Breeding Chickens.

Mr. Morley: It is nice to see you in the Chair today, Mr. Griffiths.

The Government have a long-standing commitment to all forms of animal welfare, and the standards that we apply to farm animals are especially important. There has been consistent improvement over the years, and livestock farmers in this country can take credit for the emphasis they have placed on improving farm animal welfare, as can the various organisations that have campaigned for improvements for many years. I am pleased to see that in the European Union higher priority is being given to animal welfare by the Agriculture Council—it is encouraging that it is not only this country that treats animal welfare seriously. That is of particular interest and concern to consumers and is important for farm animal welfare management and general husbandry.

Directive 98/58/EC sets minimum standards for all farmed animals throughout the European Union and provides a framework for species-specific standards; those provisions are implemented by the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000.Current provisions for hens cover only battery cages and date back to 1988. Council directive 99/74/EC bans barren battery cages and will be implemented by amendment to the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000, which have been subject to full and detailed public consultation. There will be separate legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our general approach has been to follow the EU directive with no definitions where none exist in EU law.

Schedule 3A covers non-cage systems and for the first time provides rules for those systems reflecting the growth of birds within a stocking density of nine birds per square metre. Those rule will have immediate effect for new producers, and existing producers must implement them from 1 January 2007. Derogation for

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producers in certain circumstances allowed stocking at 12 birds per square metre on 3 August 1999, and that will continue until the end of 2011.

Schedule 3B covers battery cages. It provides that no new barren cages can be installed after 1 January 2003, and in their present form the cages will be banned from 1 January 2012. I welcome that ban, for which the Government have campaigned in the EU; progress was made with United Kingdom support. It applies throughout the EU and meets many of the concerns that have long been expressed about the welfare implications of battery cages.

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge): I congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent work on animal welfare that he has been doing since before 1997. I welcome the EU directive, but enriched cages are not sufficient. Germany has banned them—could we not follow that lead?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend jumped up at an appropriate pause in my speech, because I was about to touch on that. She makes a good point. The battery cage system in its present form is being banned and we welcome that. However, schedule 3C allows enriched cages, which means additional space, a nest, perch and litter. It is right that such issues are being addressed, particularly following the expression of concern about battery hens by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which advises the Government.

Of the five freedoms, the freedom to express natural behaviour has always been a problem with battery cages. Enriched cages have always provoked a great deal of comment, both for and against, and many welfare organisations believe that enriched cages offer few advantages over the barren cage. I confess that I, too, have concerns about the enriched cage. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is conducting and funding research on enriched cages, as is the industry itself; I welcome that, and I think that the industry deserves to be congratulated on taking the matter seriously.

I know from my discussions with the industry that it, not unreasonably, wants to know where it stands in relation to the Government's proposals and what might happen in the long term. I have already made it clear that the provisions in the regulations that we are debating today are unchanged from the EU directive: we have not changed that in any way. However, it is important that we debate enriched cages, so that the industry can address the issue and know what the long-term prospects are. I understand the industry's point of view: it has investment programmes to consider, and it has to think ahead about whether it wants to invest in different cage systems. It is therefore important to consider the whole issue of enriched cages.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley) is quite right to say that Germany has already announced its intention to prohibit enriched cages. It is likely that Holland and perhaps Belgium will follow suit. There is a movement in Europe that has already decided that enriched cages do not meet the welfare concerns. I propose to conduct a consultation on

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whether we should follow other member states in banning enriched cages. In that respect, it is important that we allow everyone who has an interest in the argument to express their views. We can then evaluate the information we have from ongoing research and reach a conclusion on whether enriched cages satisfy the welfare needs of the birds and are a real improvement on the present barren battery cage.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Will the Minister take the opportunity to state the timetable for that research, so that the industry knows at what point he will finish and make his decision?

Mr. Morley: I cannot give a definitive timetable at this stage. My proposal is to start with consultation. Some research is under way, with different strands having been continuing for different periods of time. I accept that the consultation period needs to be as short as possible, but it should allow people to give their views; the information should be evaluated in order to reach a conclusion so that the industry has guidance. I am keen to do that, and I was influenced by the discussions that I had with the industry about the need to make decisions sooner rather than later. We do not want to be talking about banning enriched cages five, six, or seven years from now, by which time some in the industry will have made investment decisions. It is better that we address the matter at the earliest opportunity. Now is the earliest opportunity, and I intend to take advantage of it.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), will the Minister clarify whether, once the statutory instrument has passed, a farmer who produces eggs using a caged system will be obliged immediately to expand the size of cages from 450 sq cm to 550 sq cm?

Mr. Morley: There are some time scales for that, which I will deal with in a moment. First, I want to make clear the nature of my proposals on the consultation. We will get the process under way as quickly as possible so that people can take part.

My second point relates to the general provisions of schedule 3D. It bans all mutilations of laying hens, but allows beak trimming to be authorised if necessary to avoid feather pecking and cannibalism. The Government acknowledge welfare issues relating to pecking and cannibalism, which is why beak trimming has traditionally been allowed in a range of poultry systems. We do not seek to ban beak trimming until the end of 2010 at the earliest, but I shall call for an action plan to be agreed by all interested parties that aims to end beak trimming by then. From my talks with the poultry industry, the breeding sector and various organisations, I believe that that time scale is sufficient to enable issues about beak trimming to be addressed.

An alternative to beak trimming is beak tipping, which is practised by several poultry systems. I want increasing use of beak tipping to be part of the action plan,. The plan will include gaining a better understanding of the factors that trigger feather

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pecking, and it will address on-farm management. We have made a start on the welfare code, which highlights management issues and advises beak tipping rather than trimming. Tipping rather trimming during the interim period, before 2010, would be sufficient to address the welfare needs of poultry systems, so we will press for that in our discussions with the industry.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): Will the Minister clarify the issue of keeping things the same throughout the EU? Is it his intention to persuade other European partners to use exactly the same time scale, or might we find in 2010 that we are the only country banning the activity, while other European producers continue to allow it?

Mr. Morley: We will certainly not be the only country that does so. Other member states are already taking action on beak trimming, and some have already prohibited it. The directive bans beak trimming by 2010, but allows that it may continue after that date. Through co-operation with the industry, we can address the issues within the time frame. It is not necessary, and it is not my intention, to provide for a continuation of beak trimming beyond 2010. I intend to sit down with the industry and talk about how we can introduce the action plan.


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