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

Examinations of Witnesses (Questions 230-239)



  Q230 Chairman: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is another of our sessions in an ever-lengthening series of evidence-taking occasions on the draft Animal Welfare Bill, and can I welcome to the Committee this morning the Farm Animal Welfare Council, Dr Judy MacArthur Clark, and from the Meat and Livestock Commission Mike Attenborough and Derek Armstrong, and that just leaves one un-named witness!

  Dr MacArthur Clark: This is Graham Godbold, who is also from the Farm Animal Welfare Council. He is one of my members. All members of FAWC are independent of their allegiances in terms of their membership. I am sure you are aware that we are appointed by Ministers to give advice on farm animal welfare. The experience of our different members comes from different backgrounds related to animal welfare, and Graham's particular experience is in local authorities who are currently very involved in the enforcement of the current farm animal welfare legislation, so I have invited him to join me today.

  Q231 Chairman: Very wise. I am delighted. I would like to start, as we have with all of our witnesses, with two questions. The first question is, given we have an enormous amount of material to try to digest, perhaps you would like to say to the Committee, "Of all the things we have seen in this Bill here is one thing we would like you not to lose sight of because we think it is very good", and the reverse question: what is the key thing as far as your respective organisations are concerned where you have a reservation? I am aware from your submissions that there are a number of what I call drafting of detail points, but if we looked at the one big showstopper issue as far as you are concerned, what would that be and what would you like to make certain you do not forget? Perhaps, Dr MacArthur Clark, you might care to respond first?

  Dr MacArthur Clark: Certainly, and thank you very much for inviting me. As you will gather, FAWC feels this is a very important piece of legislation and we believe in many ways government has benefited from having a Farm Animal Welfare Council for the last 25 years. We were set up in 1979, and I think that is why we are now in a position where the legislation protecting the welfare of farm animals is much stronger than in other animal areas, and I am sure you have heard this already from other witnesses, so in many ways what we are looking for is to build on an existing structure and an experience of that structure. I guess if I was looking at things which I would say "Please do not lose", one of them would definitely be the terminology that has been put into the Bill with regard to disqualification. We believe that that is a very important move forward; that magistrates, should they choose not to disqualify somebody having found them guilty of acts of cruelty, should have to make a statement to the court as to why they have chosen not to. Clearly there could be circumstances in which they choose not to but we believe that will put the onus on them to think very carefully before making that decision and that is extremely important. We also have concerns about enforcement. We have a lot of experience, and this is one reason I have invited Graham to join me today, in enforcement of the current regulations, and we see a great deal of weakness in that enforcement at the moment. We have produced reports in 1992 and again in 1999 on enforcement making recommendations about enforcement and how it should be beefed up. We are concerned that there should be adequate resources within this Bill to ensure that enforcement is adequate because no Bill on its own is going to ensure an improvement in the situation compared with the current. We need to have carrots: carrots are going to be codes of recommendation, codes of practice. We see those effectively as carrots. They are already working in the farm animal area very effectively and we welcome the extension of that but we do need to know that the stick is also there and there is going to be an adequate structure by which enforcement can take place. I think the other area we are concerned about is the addressing of genetics and breeding in the Bill where we see that all of the focus so far is looking at problems of genetic selection in companion animals, and alongside that, sometimes a mention of genetic modification. Now, we as a body have spent the last three years looking at breeding and breeding technologies in farm animals, and you may or may not be aware that we produced a very fundamental report in June of this year on that where we expressed significant concern about the welfare impact of breeding and breeding technologies on farm animals in this country. If we look at what causes most welfare problems, it is the breeding that has taken place over the last 30 or so years. It is not people physically beating their cows and pigs and so on; it is what has happened through selective breeding, and we believe there is a need for there to be a structure which will get a grip on that and will review what is now happening and lead us back into a better situation in terms of genetic selection. Interestingly, since we produced our report, we have had meetings with CAWC, the Companion Animal Welfare Council, and the APC, the Animal Procedures Committee, and they have come fully on board with us in that recommendation so we will be building on that recommendation to government to make it a recommendation that a Standing Committee should be set up to look at breeding technologies right across animal kind. This is not in any way to try and stop agricultural progress but to try and lead it on a path that will get us back into strains of animals that do not have the welfare problems we experience at the moment. I am sorry, that is perhaps a few more minutes than you wanted there, but I think that summarises where we are coming from with regard to this Bill.

  Q232 Chairman: Very helpful. Thank you. Mr Attenborough?

  Mr Attenborough: Good morning. I think many of you know what the purpose of MLC is. We were set up under the Agricultural Act of 1967 to promote greater efficiency in the livestock sector having due regard to the interests of consumers, and that is very important in the way we attend to what we do. We are very much consumer driven. I am the technical director of MLC, responsible for our research programmes and for the management of scientific issues within them and the impact on the industry. Derek Armstrong is a veterinary scientist leading two very important programmes. One concerns the wasting disease of pigs called PMWS and the response to it, and he is also in charge of the programme introducing a salmonella control programme in pigs, and he also does work associated with consultative matters. As far as the draft Animal Welfare Bill is concerned, we welcome it because we feel it brings together important pieces of legislation into one place. We note and support that it is built around the five freedoms, which we think are fundamental. Over the last perhaps 10-15 years the farming community, together with other sectors of the whole chain, have been working together to develop assurance schemes, some of which are farm-based and some of which are whole-chain based, but nevertheless fundamental to those are the elements of the five freedoms, so I think as a point of differentiation going forward farm assurance is very important. One factor not to lose sight of is the issue of a level playing field across Europe. There are comments in here that relate to some technologies and some factors which are not permitted in this country which indeed are permitted in other countries, and certainly those factors can disadvantage the producer in this country. So perhaps one issue is the issue of a level playing field across Europe. Perhaps on the reservation side is the issue of balance—that on the one hand doing a certain thing will have one effect but can also have another effect. For example, if you tail dock a lamb you can see that there will be a welfare impact from that. If you do not, you could have an impact in another direction with infection and migration of flies, so there are a lot of balancing factors in this whole equation. By way of introduction those are two aspects I have.

  Mr Armstrong: As Dr MacArthur Clark has said, wilful cruelty and neglect is very rare on the farming side but it does occur, and there does need to be a safety net like this Bill, but we are particularly pleased that the Bill seeks not just to be a set of punitive sanctions but also seeks to promote welfare through codes of practice, and it is creating that culture of good welfare, and really that should be the focus in relation to farming. There is a culture of good welfare there; we promote it through farm assurance schemes; we inspect it through farm assurance schemes; but the prosecution side of things is just a safety net. It is promoting good welfare that should be the focus, and we think this Bill seeks to achieve that balance.

  Q233 Chairman: I would like to ask you, Mr Armstrong, because I think you have veterinary background, just so I understand, you mentioned the importance of the docking of lamb's tails and we have not had anybody who has told us we should not be doing that, but yesterday and the day before we had a lot of people telling us that tail docking for dogs was not a good idea. Why is it all right for lambs?

  Mr Armstrong: I suppose it is a question of risk assessment. What you are trying to do is find a balance between the insult to all lambs that are tail docked against the much more severe insult where, as a result of faeces collecting on the tail, flies eggs are laid in those faeces and, from those maggots grow in the faeces and then start to eat into the animal. There is always this question of striking a balance between very severe insults on one side and the severity of insults on the other side. In the long term you could look at developing technologies, controlling flies in other ways for example, but currently we do not have technologies available which enable us to protect lambs from potential fly strike.

  Q234 Chairman: So in summary the removal of those risks that you have just described overcomes any potential question of pain to the lamb when the tail is docked?

  Mr Armstrong: You balance one against the other, and offer protection from the more severe.

  Dr MacArthur Clark: I do not know if it is of any help but we as FAWC are looking at mutilations in sheep at the present time and expect to produce a report by the end of this year which covers tail docking, and perhaps I should declare that I am a veterinary surgeon as well so you have two of us in front of you, and our conclusion is going to be very much along the same lines—that is that at the present time there is the need for a counter balance to not docking. The welfare problems that are produced by not docking are such that there is a justifiable case for docking. However, obviously it should be done in the most humane way possible. That is not the same with dogs and the evidence is clear with the vast majority of breeds. The only breed I think the jury is still out on is the English Springer Spaniel where there are arguments for and against, and some argue that the dog does damage its tail in rough growth. I have certainly bred Springers and I know they go into rough growth but I am not persuaded by that argument, I must say,   but I do not think there are the same counterbalancing arguments for the vast majority of dog breeds.

  Chairman: I have indulged my curiosity now sufficiently. Joan Ruddock?

  Q235 Joan Ruddock: I profess curiosity as well. Are sheep docked of their tails in all countries where sheep are farmed?

  Mr Armstrong: As far as I am aware, yes.

  Dr MacArthur Clark: Certainly in New Zealand, which must be one of the biggest sheep breeders, it is a standard technique.

  Mr Armstrong: New Zealand and Australia. I cannot comment on every country.

  Q236 David Taylor: May I say, Chairman, that I have long been an admirer of the work of the Farm Animal Welfare Council but I was rather surprised by their assessment that the Bill is a great advance on what we have at present, because tail docking and castration measures have been no doubt very worthy but they are not tackling the core large scale issues involved with animal cruelty on the farm, and I will cite one example, having chaired the inquiry a few months ago into the poultry industry. Here we have 750 million, approximately, birds killed for meat every year in this country brought to slaughter weight in about six weeks with all of the problems of health and cruelty that that involves in windowless sheds and slaughtered in quite cruel conditions. Is not this Bill really at the fringes of animal cruelty? Should you not have been saying something about that? On Tuesday or Wednesday of next week we are going to be talking about foxhunting, for goodness' sake, and for me there are 15,000 foxes and 750 million chickens and for every fox killed by someone in a red coat there are 50,000 hens being killed by someone in blue overalls in rather more seriously cruel conditions, so I do dispute what Mike Attenborough said about no one doing it deliberately. They are allowed to do it deliberately. Should not FAWC be saying "This is not a great advance on what we have at present? It is worthwhile, it is useful, but it is targeting the wrong area."

  Dr MacArthur Clark: I take on board many of the points you are saying and that was part of the rationale as to why I introduced our thinking in terms of breeding technologies, because many of the problems we see in the modern broiler chicken, for example, are based in breeding determinations that were taking place 30 years ago. So through conventional breeding, not genetic manipulation or anything, we have ended up with the modern broiler chicken. You could then say "This is where we are at the present". If FAWC were to declare this as totally unacceptable, and the sort of practices may I say that you have outlined in terms of humane slaughter we would declare unacceptable—we are producing a white meat slaughter report at the moment and produced our red meat slaughter report last year, and we were very clear on the things we felt were unacceptable as slaughter, so all slaughter should be done in a humane way—but if we were to declare that the methods of housing and the existence of these strains of birds were unacceptable, and part of the major problem lies in the genetics of these birds, at six weeks they are weighing two kilogrammes but their legs cannot hold them and they have cardio-pulmonary problems and so on, so the problem lies in the genetic selection that is taking place, and our view is that if we were to say "This can no longer happen in the United Kingdom", that industry would go overseas. I do not totally concur with that as an excuse, please do not accept that, but I do think we have to work with the industry to make that into a strain of bird that can still be productive, can still be competitive, and does not have these same welfare issues and that is where we are moving towards in terms of our recommendations on breeding technologies. I hope that answers your question.

  Mr Attenborough: In the pig sector, for example, tethers will not be banned in Europe until 2006 and stalls not till 2013. Of course, they were taken out in the 90s in Great Britain. In terms of the five freedoms we have been taking about, the freedom to express and to be able to move is very fundamental, and in terms of rearing conditions even with intensively reared pig sectors that is evident in this country, and we have built our farm assurance and some of our communications strategies to consumers based on those aspects of production.

  Q237 Mr Mitchell: Just to continue the docking argument which has preoccupied us for such a long time on dogs, are the arguments for docking the tails of pigs the same as these for docking the tails of sheep?

  Dr MacArthur Clark: Very similar, yes. If you have seen pigs that have not been docked that get tail bitten, and it is part of intensification of agriculture though it can occur in extensive pig breeding systems as well, pigs will chew away on each other's tails, it is a stereotypic behaviour, and they become horrendously raw, inflamed, infected, and really problematical. You may end up with hind leg paralysis and things like that, so it really is a major problem with pigs as well. What we would like to do is find out how we can rear pigs that do not tail bite, what do they need in their environment, and that would be a much more positive way forward, but until we have that solution then docking, on balance, is probably the more humane approach than leaving the tails on.

  Q238 Mr Mitchell: It sounds a bit like politics! We were told yesterday about countries which banned the docking of dogs' tails. Are there countries which ban the docking of sheep or pigs' tails?

  Dr MacArthur Clark: Not to my knowledge.

  Mr Armstrong: The code of practice currently recommends that you should not tail dock unless you can demonstrate there is a need to do so, so de facto, even in this country, you should not tail dock pigs unless you are aware that there is a risk a problem may occur, and some farms do not dock pigs. Some farmers find that if they do not, they run into the severe problems that Dr MacArthur Clark has described. We would see the Animal Welfare Bill as being a dynamic process and, as we become aware of those steps that can be taken to prevent it, then veterinary surgeons and farmers would then work to reduce the numbers of farms where tail docking is required.

  Q239 Mr Mitchell: Are there any studies of the subsequent differences between farms which do not dock and farms which do?

  Mr Armstrong: Yes. There have been numerous studies and a lot of research has been done on tail docking. The problem is it is a very multifactorial issue and someone will do something and say they have managed to prevent tail docking and someone else will do it and find it has not worked for them. It is not clear-cut. We certainly have made significant progress in recent years in identifying issues. Access to mushroom compost in Northern Ireland was found to be particularly helpful in some units but it does not always work in every management system.

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