Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2003 and Draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle and Draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Pigs

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Second Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 4 February 2003

[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]

Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals
(England) (Amendment) Regulations 2003

8.55 am

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 2003.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle and the draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Pigs.

Mr. Morley: Hon. Members will be interested in these codes and regulations, because a great many letters are sent on such animal welfare matters. The codes and regulations demonstrate the Government's long-standing commitment to animal welfare and the range of improvements and progress that we have made.

On animal welfare in general, we recognise that although we have a history of taking unilateral action in this country—that is entirely defensible, and we can be proud of the standards that we have applied—it is much more desirable to have welfare improvements across the European Union. That is desirable because it puts in place the famous level playing field, an overused but important phrase. If we want welfare improvements, it is important for them to be applied across the board.

Council directive 98/58/EC sets minimum standards for all farmed animals across the EU and provides a framework for species-specific standards. It is implemented by the Welfare of Farm Animals (England) Regulations 2000. Council directive 2001/88/EC and Commission directive 2001/93/EC amend directive 91/630/EEC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs. They will be implemented in England through an amendment to the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000.

The regulations have been subject to full public consultation, which is right and proper. There have been many responses to them from farming and welfare organisations and members of the public. There will be separate legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We have made it very clear that the directives have been implemented in full but that there have been no additions in relation to the oft-made accusation of gold-plating. The key provision of the directives is an EU-wide ban on close confinement sow stalls, to be fully in place by 1 January 2013. That has already been implemented in the UK—an example of the unilateral action that we have taken over the years. Sow stalls for housing dry sows have been banned in the UK since 1 January 1999. We are very pleased that the ban is

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being put in place across Europe. Our pig industry and welfare groups have been arguing for that. We would have liked a shorter phase-out period, but the 10-year time scale is fairly consistent with other similar phase-out periods in EU directives.

The regulations involve transitional provisions, amendments to the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000, as I mentioned, and, in particular, the replacement of schedule 6, which is how they are implemented. Part I of the new schedule 6 contains interpretation; part II has general additional conditions. Those include requirements for all pigs to have permanent access to manipulable materials to enable investigation and manipulation activities, and detailed provision for concrete slatted floors.

I know that the issue of manipulable materials has attracted media attention because it can include plastic items, some of which are specifically designed for pigs' use, to give them opportunities for appropriate behaviour and activity in their pens. There has been much focus on toys and EU toy police. I can reassure the Committee that we are not putting in place pig toy police to go round inspecting pens, ensuring that pigs have toys. There has been far too much emphasis on balls. We are not putting in place training for pig Sunday league football teams. We will not have herds of pigs going round chanting ''You'll never pork alone'' or demanding films such as ''Bend it like bacon''. I could go on like that for some time, but I suspect that you would not wish me to, Mr. Olner.

My point is that this matter has been trivialised in the way in which it has been reported; but enrichment is an important welfare consideration in the keeping of such intelligent animals as pigs. The measure reflects good practice that has been in place in this country for a long time. Many people who keep pigs already provide manipulable materials and a range of equipment for pigs for welfare purposes. There are details about that in the guidance.

Part III of new schedule 6 deals with boars and the additional minimum floor area required for pens also used for natural service. Existing buildings have until 1 January 2005 to comply with that. Part IV deals with sows and gilts. It contains requirements to group house sows and gilts, minimum space requirements, minimum pen side lengths and requirements for a minimum continuous solid lying area for sows and gilts. Existing buildings have until 1 January 2013 to comply with that. Part V deals with piglets, putting in place an increase in the minimum weaning age from 21 to 28 days, with the exception of all-in/all-out systems.

The pig directive will be subject to a review in 2005, which will cover castration, space allowances and floor types for weaners and rearing pigs, and to a more major review in 2008. That will cover, among other matters, farrowing systems. I know that many hon. Members have had letters about those. It should not be forgotten that farrowing systems are designed specifically to prevent the sow from rolling on piglets. Unfortunately, there is some piglet mortality in rearing systems, and crates are designed to prevent that. We have been funding research into alternatives, and some designs have been quite encouraging, but they have not been very successful in commercial use

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so far. Most alternatives have at least double the piglet mortality. We want to do better than that before we encourage a replacement of farrowing crates. I believe, however, that we can make progress in time. Even the existing crates have been changed over the years, for example to provide extra room to allow the sow to stand up. I believe that we will have made further progress by 2008.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—the EU will bring in the same type of stalls as those that he has just discussed, but the system here will be different because in the rest of the EU sows can legally be kept in stalls for 25 per cent. of the gestation period. That must give a competitive advantage in the production costs of pork.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is right, although I am not sure that that gives a production cost advantage. I remember an argument being made when sow stalls were phased out here that sows could be put into stalls for a limited period, for various reasons. The veterinary advice at the time was that there was not a veterinary case for that, so we stayed with the original proposal. It is true that the EU has approached the matter slightly differently, although I imagine that it heard the arguments applied in our country at that time. The argument was presented in terms of the welfare benefits to the sow rather than in competitive terms. I can give the hon. Gentleman more details on that.

The new welfare codes relate to the current pig and cattle welfare codes, which date back to 1983 and are in need of updating. The new codes have been prepared to be user-friendly and to highlight legal requirements of welfare advice, as did the sheep code issued in 2000 and the new codes for laying hens and for meat chickens, which were issued last year and were well received by the industry.

Codes made under section 3 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 can be used as evidence in prosecutions for causing unnecessary pain or distress to livestock. That is an important point because people sometimes say that the codes are not statutory. It is true that they are advisory codes, but they are designed to give advice on how directives are implemented, and they can be used in court in prosecutions for cruelty to or mistreatment of animals if the keeper has not followed their advice. Stock keepers must have access to codes and knowledge of them. They focus on welfare outcomes for the animal.

There has been full consultation on the codes that apply in England, and there are separate codes for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That reflects the fact that there is separate legislation on implementation. The pig welfare code provides guidance to the new regulations for farmers. The cattle welfare code is issued in the absence of specific European Union legislation and takes account of the recommendations in the independent Farm Animal Welfare Council's dairy cattle report and the Council of Europe's recommendations on cattle. I pay tribute to the Farm Animal Welfare Council for its excellent job in producing reports and advising the

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Government. The Council of Europe also conducts thorough studies into a range of welfare aspects that influence future EU directives, and its work—including that done by the UK's cross-party delegation—is valuable in influencing thinking within the EU and the delivery of welfare improvements.

I have given an outline of the directive and the new codes. I shall try to deal with points that hon. Members may wish to raise. The directive brings an improvement in welfare, and it is desirable that it should do so across the EU. The regulations will also apply to the accession countries as they will be part of accession agreements. There will be opportunities to review the regulations in 2005 and 2008, and we will be able then to take into account the advances that I hope we shall have seen in research and development.

The UK has a history of good welfare legislation, and the pig industry has a record of applying good practice, taking interest in welfare and using pig-rearing systems that meet the needs of the animals. The industry has been willing to embrace and accept better working practices and new welfare conditions. In the past, the industry has asked only that regulations should be applied across the EU in the same way that they are applied in the UK. These regulations will ensure that that is so.

9.7 am


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