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

Examinations of Witnesses (Questions 240-252)



  Q240 Paddy Tipping: In your opening remarks, Dr MacArthur Clark, you talked about enforceability. There is an assumption lying behind this Bill that it can be done at no cost or limited cost. Is that a reality, and what do you think the costs are?

  Dr MacArthur Clark: You ask me what I think and I do not think it is a reality. My view is clearly that, if this is going to be effectively enforced, there will be costs for that and there are certain confusions in the enforcement that I think need to be resolved. The enforcement lies with the combination of the State Veterinary Service, of local authorities and of the police and yet we also have the RSPCA coming in with regard to prosecution, and I think that whole scenario needs to have some clarification because there is potential confusion there. We are concerned about the fact that it is not clear from the Bill whether there is a duty on local authorities to enforce this legislation or whether the Bill is giving permission to local authorities to enforce this legislation. That may seem a very subtle difference but it could be quite important because we could end up with postcode lottery; welfare is good in Essex but not so good in Shropshire or something like that—and please, anyone from Shropshire do not take that personally! So I think it is important that the enforcement is looked at and I do believe there is going to need to be a resource otherwise the Act will not achieve its objective.

  Q241 Paddy Tipping: And there is a difference between promoting good practice which you have all talked about, and enforcing and investigating poor practice. Presumably there is a cost in promoting good practice as well?

  Dr MacArthur Clark: Yes. We all talk about there being codes of practice for farm animals at present; but many of them are many years out of date and therefore there is a resource implication in terms of producing good quality codes of practice. There will be an extension into companion animals though I believe the intention is to have more generic codes of practice for companion animals rather than a code per species, and that probably is a good way forward at this point anyway, but there is a significant resource involved in that. Indeed FAWC's resource gets used in that as well because the normal way in which codes of practice are developed is for FAWC to do a report from which the code of practice is drawn, so there is a resource point from our perspective for that as well.

  Q242 Paddy Tipping: Graham, you have a local authority background. What are the consequences for local authorities in resource terms?

  Mr Godbold: It is my understanding that the Bill could place a high cost on local authorities because I think this is a matter of saying "We understand what the Bill is trying to do, but in the terms of any Act you will have as much promotion and as much advice as it is possible to have, there always has to be the big stick at the end." We have had the carrot, and enforcement is the big stick. I think if you put your finger in the air, should we say, to gauge what this Bill will achieve in animal welfare terms on the farm. It is very difficult at this particular stage to say it will have the positive effect that it is meant to have, and there will always be the necessity for enforcement. I   think the Bill seems to suggest increased enforcement powers, and increased formal activity by developing the role of enforcement bodies, so it naturally comes with it, that there needs to be some resource added to what local authorities would do, and the question is of course whether that is a national resource or a local resource.

  Alan Simpson: I thought I had a fairly good grasp of the issues we had to address here in terms of animal welfare entitlements both in conditions in which they are slaughtered, conditions in which they are reared, and aspects relating to cruelty, but Dr MacArthur Clark has thrown me about whether the five freedoms are being breached by the current way in which animals are being bred, and the implications that may have in terms of conventional breeding, and, as an extension of that, the implications of transgenic species being produced and whether that is going to be compatible with the five freedoms. Can you take us through this, because I think we need to know whether the Bill as it stands contains sufficient elements to allow us to address animal welfare issues in the direction you have begun to take us in, or whether you were raising that as a way of saying that the Bill itself needs further clauses or provisions that will allow us to address welfare issues that are breeding issues and not rearing ones.

  Q243 Chairman: Can I just add to that and say does that draw into question whether the use of the five freedoms to describe the state of animal welfare is the right way to deal with the issue?

  Dr MacArthur Clark: Picking up on your point initially, if I may, and it will lead me into responding to your question, I think the five freedoms are still very robust but we should recognise they are ideals, so one sees them as the target of a system and it gives a very good steer to farmers, stockmen and so on to understand what they should be targeting, but they are a set of ideals. For example, it is not always possible to allow freedom to express normal behaviour because sometimes animals will kill each other if you allow them the freedom to express normal behaviour, so there are limits. But your question, Mr Simpson, is very important because if we produce a Bill that is limited in its ability to respond to the sort of welfare issues that we have created through breeding, and if it is unable to do that, then we will have failed, you are right. I am not a legal person and I am not clear at the moment that the Bill is capable of doing this. I hope, as enabling legislation it will allow government under subsequent regulations to set up, for example, a Standing Committee that looks at breeding and breeding technologies. We have looked at what sort of regulation could be put in place to control this, and we have come to the conclusion that you cannot design a law that will limit the way in which people selectively breed in all of the different scenarios that one might have to consider. The law would simply not be flexible enough to deal with that, so we have come to the view that under an enabling piece of legislation we should have a skilled body that keeps under review these issues. A body that is looking at the way in which broiler chickens, pigs, bacon pigs, sheep and dairy cattle, for example—not only intensive agriculture—are being led through their genetic selection and which works with the industry to turn that around, and which takes welfare as a much more important facet, rather than a single trait, as it is used, the single selection. You should not believe that transgenesis and genetic modification is the only evil that is going to come upon us and cause this to be a greater problem, however. Even with conventional breeding, there is a technology called "marker assisted selection", which means that, with conventional breeding you can much more clearly mark animals that have particular genes you want and select for them and speed up the way in which you select for particular traits. And let us remember that whenever we do that we may select for good traits but we may also be selecting for a lot of bad things we do not want to have—hence lame dairy cows, high levels of mastitis in dairy cows, lame broiler chickens. All of these things are a product of that selective breeding. We need to make sure this Bill is capable, either in its main content or as secondary regulation, to take on board this recommendation to control this.

  Q244 Alan Simpson: Bearing in mind what you have just said, do you believe that the same set of regulations will be sufficient to address the problems you identified in terms of the use of marking in conventional breeding and the emergence of transgenic species? Will that single set of regulations be sufficient, or are you saying that we need to be thinking of two in parallel?

  Dr MacArthur Clark: No. I believe that one structure—and I use the word "structure" rather than regulations because regulations will apply some written document that people comply with—whereas a structure which is a review body, a Standing Committee, whatever you choose to call it, could handle both of those. We produced in 1998 a report on cloning and recommended that there should be a Standing Committee to consider cloning. That could easily extend into all forms of genetic modification but we see that same body being able to look at marker assisted breeding and being the skilled, knowledgeable body that understands quantitative genetics and how it can be used to the benefit of animals rather than to the detriment of animals and purely for the breeding activity. And also, if I may add, this Standing Committee would have a communication role with the public because what we do not want is for the public to view breeding and selective breeding as it currently is in animals in the same dark way in which they viewed GM crops. We do not want to get into the same problem there. We want public decisions to be informed into science, and science into the public, and then those decisions are truly based upon what consumers really want to have.

  Mr Attenborough: As I am responsible for our breeding programmes in the red meat species within MLC, I would just like to comment on a couple of points about the breeding aspects. Take sheep, for example. Breeding for resistance to worms which infect the sheep has been something we have been researching and are introducing into the sector, and that has a positive benefit. It has a positive benefit to the animal, it reduces the cost of treatment, and clearly there are environmental benefits as well. So when one looks at selective breeding one needs to look at it in much the same way as this issue of balance, because you can do some very positive things from the animal welfare point of view. Ten years ago I was research director for Dalgety Spillers and we introduced a technology, which was a marker assisted selected technology in pigs where we eliminated a gene which was associated with stress of male pigs called porcine stress syndrome, and so there are positive aspects of breeding and I think we need to reflect that in the discussions today.

  Dr MacArthur Clark: Definitely, yes, and I did not take time to mention that. In our report we have made the point that there is potential benefit for animals through this selection and we really need to target on getting the benefits and avoiding the disbenefits. At the end of the day, the industry does not benefit from having a reputation of having animals like chickens that are lame or which cannot be reared within their environment. It is not good for the industry; it is not good for the public or for anybody.

  Q245 Joan Ruddock: I want to try to get to grips with what you are saying in the way that Alan has expressed because it seems to me that in the longer term the culture that might come from this Bill could mean and should mean that nobody would seek to breed an animal that was lame or that was subject to mastitis or because of the need to produce more meat from that particular animal or more milk from that particular cow, but I cannot see now that you have raised it—and I am so glad you have because it is tremendously important—that this Bill would provide intervention at an early enough stage to ensure this kind of breeding does not happen. It would say after the animals have been bred and are on the farm, "Oh dear, that is a problem" and is not conducive to the best welfare but after that, of course, all the money has been invested and you have the animals, etc, etc. So although Dr MacArthur Clark has said she is not a lawyer, it seems to me as a lay person that this Bill does not provide the intervention at the stage where people are beginning to do selective breeding.

  Dr MacArthur Clark: And you touch exactly on the reason why we determine that regulations per se would probably not work because they come into play after the event, as you say, and this is where we are at the present. This is why we recommend there should be a body that is skilled to be able to evaluate, and we would see that this body would have a dialogue with industry. Let me give you an example. At the moment we are going down a route with our sheep industry where we are selecting for scrapie resistance, resistance to let us call it the equivalent of BSE in sheep. What we do not know is what else are we going to select for at the same time, and if we just select for that as a single trait, all sorts of other disbenefits may come on board as well—sheep unsuitable for the environment in which they live, and which carry other welfare problems. We would envisage this body that we are suggesting would be involved in all the development of that, would be advising, would be monitoring what is going on, making sure we are not losing the diversity that we need to keep. At the moment all we have been able to do as FAWC is to protest to government about that and say this needs to be taken on board as part of that policy, but it really needs a much more skilled body to be able to look at that. So we can get in there early but it needs a body rather than a set of regulations.

  Joan Ruddock: Should not that be part of the Bill?

  Q246 Chairman: We can consider that but just to be clear, if you are going to have the body you are talking about which is going to adjudicate on some of these matters, are we not getting into quite difficult judgmental territory because coming back to the question of offences, what you seem to be saying is that if you go down particular breeding lines you can cause welfare problems to be amplified in a particular breed or species by virtue of the route down which you go but if, for example, an animal with these accentuated characteristics was kept in high welfare standards in every other way which the freedoms and the Bill deal with, are we not going to get into some difficulty that one person's judgment is that a welfare problem is being created whilst another says "No, this is a proper line of breeding and subsequent keeping of the animal?" I am just a bit concerned about how in legal terms we would define an offence in the way that you have described it to us. Have you given any thought to this, or could you give some thought to it, because we could spend the rest of the morning discussing a fine drafting point, but I think, following Joan Ruddock's point, it would be quite useful if you could consider submitting some supplementary thoughts on that, (a) to describe the body and (b) the process of judgment that could be involved if there were prosecutions that could be taken under these matters, and it may well be that you might send a copy to the MLC, because I put them in the world of having to practically deal with these issues, so that they can comment on it as well.

  Mr Attenborough: We would be happy to, Chairman.

  Q247 Mr Wiggin: I would like to talk about pigs' teeth because that is something that has not been bred out, and it is a difficult subject. Do you feel the Bill protects the farmer on this? If you do not cut pigs' teeth then the damage is done to the sow, but if the piglets' teeth are cut badly then obviously there is an issue with the piglet. Having two vets here, the recommendation, I concede, is that this should be done by a vet which considerably increases the cost, and may be trivialising to some extent the work of the vet. Can you tell the Committee a bit about this, and what you feel the Bill should be doing?

  Mr Armstrong: Currently, as with tail docking in pigs, the code of practice recommends that it should not be done, again unless you can demonstrate there is a need for it. We did commission some research to look at this a few years ago, and we compared on the same farm with and without teeth clipping and there was significant damage both to the udders of some sows and to the faces of some of the piglets, with the result that some piglets had to be euthanased, so there are certainly difficulties there. There are some farms who do not teeth clip and do not have a problem but there are other farms where if they do not teeth clip there are significant problems. Again, we are not clear why some farms have a problem and some do not, but it is recommended that farmers do their own mini trials to determine if their farm actually requires teeth clipping or not. Obviously we promote best practice in terms of teeth clipping because it is an issue where different levels of skill are involved, and there can be more problems on some farms than others where teeth are badly clipped, as you said. That could be monitored by the farm vet. We would not see it as a situation where it is economically viable for a vet to be involved in teeth clipping but they can monitor the situation, and it is that support that we would see as particularly important. Since stalls and tethers have been banned in the United Kingdom the number of breeding sows has fallen by almost 40%. It is not the only factor involved but it certainly was a significant factor in the decision by some farmers, and we consider it is extremely important that as opinion formers you should get the message to consumers that they should not just make the statement that they support good welfare but they should put that support into practice by buying products that are produced to higher welfare standards, and that have been assured to those standards by our farm assurance schemes.

  Q248 Mr Wiggin: What about grinding of teeth?

  Mr Armstrong: The same thing; it is down to the level of skill of the operator. In some cases it can cause less damage but, again, care is needed and supervision with proper training is the key factor.

  Q249 Mr Wiggin: I agree with everything you have said, but what I am concerned is that the draft Bill is worded in such a way that the element of judgment about the skill of the operator, whether he be a trained vet or a farmer who has done it for 50 years, is far from clear and I do not particularly want to see Bills going on to the statute book that put the farmer in an impossible position. I believe this particular area is not a function of intensity but a function of the nature of the piglet and therefore it is something we have not got quite right in the Bill, but again I would appreciate your views if I have got that wrong.

  Dr MacArthur Clark: It is quite difficult to justify a five year education for a veterinary surgeon in order to just do teeth clipping in pigs but, having said that, there clearly is a very important training element for this and FAWC emphasises the importance of good stockmanship which includes good training on these types of things, wherever it is essential to do a form of mutilation for the environment in which the animals are kept. There are some good news items as well, though. For example, debeaking in chickens has been a characteristic of laying hens for quite some years, and recently the industry itself has generated some evidence that using infra red beams to debeak is a much better welfare system. So the technology is much better for the animals' welfare and appears to work just as effectively. The jury is still out a little bit on that because we have not yet seen the final data, but it looks very promising.

  Q250 Mr Wiggin: There is a fundamental, though, between debeaking chickens which is something that you have to do if you intensively farm, equally with tail docking and equally with docking lambs if you are farming in lowlands, equally docking cows—there are all sorts of real issues on the style of farming, but this is not about that. This is about the nature of the animal as it is born and is not something you have been able to breed out, and therefore it is a fundamental difference because the farmer will be prosecuted for failing to clip teeth or not, and that is what I feel the Bill has not got quite right.

  Dr MacArthur Clark: Yes.

  Q251 Chairman: I would like to put to the Farm Animal Welfare Council a couple of detailed points arising from your evidence. You specifically say, or question, why in Clause 1(c) the words "the animal is a protected animal" are required, and I wondered if you might be able to explain to me why you question whether that part of the Bill should be there?

  Dr MacArthur Clark: I was not planning to go through detailed points of drafting at the moment. We were thinking that the other three points would already include that and that therefore there was no need for that section in there.

  Q252 Chairman: If you wanted to expand on that I would be grateful. The other area which perhaps, again, you might deal with in correspondence is you say in your evidence, "It is a surprise that `animal' is not defined within the Bill itself" and yet Clause 53 does appear to attempt to do just that. You then go on to deal with an issue which other witnesses have raised with us which is this question of vertebrates and non vertebrates. The reason for my raising this is to ask whether you had a fundamental disagreement with the way that the description of an animal is dealt with in the Bill or simply whether you felt it should be more extensive, ie to go into non vertebrate species, and, again, perhaps you might be able to tease that out for us in correspondence.

  Dr MacArthur Clark: I would like to return to you on those points.

  Chairman: Fine. Can I thank you both very much indeed. It has been a most interesting session and you have given us food for thought!

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