Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Meat and Livestock Commission

  The has been considered by a group of senior staff at MLC and our comments are restricted to how the provisions of the draft Bill relate to the farmed red meat species.

  1.  The Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) was set up by the Agriculture Act 1967 to promote greater efficiency in the livestock industry whilst taking into account the interests of consumers. The MLC aims to improve British livestock and promote British meat. MLC's work includes activity designed to lower the costs of production for livestock farmers, to improve the eating quality of meat and promotion and advertising to raise the profile of British meat to consumers.

  2.  The Commission is responsible to Parliament and its policies are agreed after extensive consultation with industry organisations. It is financed through the collection of levies on cattle sheep and pigs plus money earned from its own commercial work. The MLC receives no direct support from Government and is not part of any Ministry.

  3.  The MLC works with the whole of the industry—Government, the EU, livestock farming, auction marketing, retail, communications, economics, exports, health, schools and colleges and industry services.

  4.  The introduction of an Animal Welfare Bill to bring up-to-date important legislation and the decision to consolidate the existing law within one overarching piece of primary legislation is welcome on the grounds of reducing confusion and improving clarity.

  5.  The British livestock industry has adopted welfare measures that are among the strictest in the world and uniquely through its network of farm assurance schemes can assure consumers of compliance. The British livestock industry is generally in advance of its counterparts in other countries. British producers have made significant investments in developing systems to improve welfare but this has rarely been reflected in returns. The red meat industry promotes the adoption of the five freedoms that the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) defines as ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare. Welfare is a priority for the livestock industry and the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy has been welcomed as an initiative. There is strong support for the concept of Government and industry working together constructively to improve health and welfare.

  6.  The draft Animal Welfare Bill provides for the protection necessary to prevent all farm animals suffering from cruelty, unnecessary pain and distress and poor welfare conditions. It is accepted that the responsibility for the welfare of their animals rests with those who keep them.

  7.  It would be an offence under Section 1 subsection 4 to carry out certain procedures such as tail docking of piglets and lambs unless there is an exemption under subsection 5. There is a strong case for such an exemption for the docking of tails of piglets and lambs to prevent the serious welfare insults of tail biting and fly-strike respectively. A similar strong case can be presented for an exemption for castration of livestock to prevent unwanted pregnancies and aggressive behaviour of males.

  8.  The definition of welfare in section 3 closely follows the five freedoms that the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) defines as ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare. The red meat industry actively promotes the adoption of these freedoms and recognises that there is a duty of care of animals to meet the needs outlined in Section 3 subsection 4 in an appropriate manner as defined in Section 3 subsection 5. It should however be recognised that meeting needs inevitably involves striking a balance. For example for pigs the need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns is best achieved in straw-based housing systems but this can be at the expense of an increase in the risk of disease. Similarly tail-docking of lambs involves a trade-off between some pain for many and excruciating pain for those affected by fly-strike.

  9.  Sections 6 to 9 making provision for regulations and codes of practice promoting the welfare of animals are supported on the basis of appropriate consultation with the industry and impact assessment.

  10.  Wilful cruelty to farm animals is rare but humans are fallible and welfare can be compromised as a result of ignorance or external stress and pressures eg economics. The outbreak of classical swine fever (CSF) in August 2000 and of Foot and Mouth Disease in February 2001 represented the largest compromise welfare in British livestock in modern times.

  11.  Animal welfare standards are constantly being improved in the UK and the EU both by operation of law and also through a range of voluntary schemes. These improved standards will generally involve increased production costs and hence higher prices. This makes EU farmers vulnerable to cheap, low welfare imports from third countries, as WTO rules prevent the EU from restricting the import of meat or eggs derived from animals reared in systems which are prohibited in the EU on animal welfare grounds. Every effort should be made to amend the WTO rules must be relaxed so that when the improved welfare standards are adopted, it is possible to prevent the import of produce coming from animals reared to lower standards. Without such safeguards, EU producers are placed at an unfair competitive disadvantage and could well experience both a significant fall in income and loss of market share.

  12.  It is important that the Government presses for similar welfare standards to be uniformly applied for livestock throughout the EU. The pig industry experienced unfair competition, when the UK ban on sow stalls came into effect, and imported pigmeat coming from stall systems has undoubtedly played a large part in the contraction of the British pig industry since 1998. In the rest of the EU tethers will not be banned until 2006 and sow stalls not until 2013. Consistent labeling principles are required that allow consumers choice on the basis of welfare standards.

  13.  In response to an earlier consultation it was noted that the welfare provisions of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 were not listed as a candidate for inclusion in the new Animal Welfare Bill. The provision within the draft Bill to treat the existing codes on the welfare of farmed animals, prepared under section 3 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, as if issued under the Bill is welcomed.

  14.  Enforcement of the legislation must be consistent. This is currently a problem with EU welfare legislation, which is not uniformly applied in all Member States. Enforcement of existing legislation is fragmented with different enforcement bodies being responsible for different aspects of animal welfare legislation, eg police, local authorities, Defra, etc. Defra should have a remit for ensuring consistent national enforcement.

  15.  Prosecution and punitive sanctions should be seen as the failure of the system to deliver welfare to animals. However, an approach based solely on compliance for fear of prosecution creates conditions in which seeking help at an early stage is discouraged and the opportunity for appropriate early remedial action is thereby lost. Education, training and research to design systems that help to prevent welfare insults, to make them detectable so they can be intercepted, and to provide means of mitigation if they are not intercepted should be the main focus in creating a culture of good welfare.

  The Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC), Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), will continue to support and promote high standards of animal welfare. MLC would be prepared to submit oral evidence if invited and will take note of the passage of the Bill through Parliament with interest.

August 2004

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